27 Nov, 2020

Security forces arrested members of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) cell, who planned to assassinate Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman by placing a roadside IED on the route leading to the settlement of Nokdim, south of Bethlehem, where he resides, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) released for publication Sunday.

Among those arrested are Awad Mahmoud el-Asakra (25), an Islamic Jihad operative who was in administrative Israeli custody between 2015 and 2017 for planning terrorist attacks, and Muhammad Ali el-Asakra (32), also an Islamic Jihad operative, who was incarcerated twice in the past for involvement in PIJ terror cells and for planning attacks against the IDF.

Two terror suspects, Awad and Ali al-Asakra.
(Shin Bet)

The investigation of the two uncovered that they had worked to receive funding from agents in the Gaza Strip in order to purchase explosives meant for the attack, but were unsuccessful in doing so. When they were unable to purchase the required materials, they decided to build a non-functioning “dummy device” in order to receive recognition and funding to carry out real attacks in the future. The investigation also uncovered that at least one of the suspects’ motivation was the desire to be arrested and a prisoner’s stipend from the PIJ – a prevalent motivation in the Bethlehem area.

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In 2014, a similar attempt on Liberman’s life was thwarted, when a Hamas cell headed by Ibrahim Salim Mahmoud Zhir sought to obtain an RPG launcher in order to fire it at Liberman’s motorcade during Operation Protective Edge.

The investigation of the el-Asakras uncovered that the two were aware of this previous attempt on Liberman, and opted for the roadside bomb method under the impression that it would be the only effective method against the heavily guarded Liberman.

The Shin Bet noted that the plan was uncovered and thwarted in it’s very early stages.

A second PIJ cell operating in the area was also uncovered by Shin Bet, this one with the objective of carrying out shooting attacks against civilian and IDF targets in the Gush Etzion area.

According to the Shin Bet, these arrests, as well as the operative’s attempts to receive funding from Gaza, are testament to the increasing attempts by the PIJ to escalate the situation in Judea and Samaria using local operatives.