Israel exposes new Hamas kidnapping cell near Ramallah

Today Israeli authorities announced the arrest of members of a Hamas cell in the West Bank that was planning to kidnap and kill Israeli soldiers, among other terror activities. The cell, which was discovered a few months ago, received instructions from handlers in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

According to a statement released by the Israel Defense Forces, in addition to planning kidnapping operations, the Hamas cell, which was based in the Ramallah area, also took steps to carry out roadside bomb and rocket launching attacks.

The primary members of the cell, who were indicted on March 10, are Ahmed Muhammad Abu Fahida, 26, and Ahmed Yassin Abdel Fattah Shabrawi, 27. Fahida comes from the West Bank village of Ras Karkar, less than seven miles from Ramallah. Shabrawi is a resident of the town of Silwad in the West Bank. Both men have been detained previously for Hamas-related activities.

Fahida appears to be the leader of the cell, as the IDF statement said that he recruited Shabrawi, after he himself was recruited by a Hamas operative living in the Gaza Strip, Ahmed Mohammad Khalil Odeh. The operatives in Gaza communicated with the West Bank-based terrorists via email and telephone.

During interrogation, Fahida told Israeli authorities that only a few days before being arrested, he had told his handlers that the cell members would carry out their attacks in a matter of days.

Since January the Shin Bet has tallied 33 thwarted kidnapping attempts in the West Bank, according to recent Israeli media reports. By contrast, in all of 2012, there were 24 thwarted attempts in the West Bank. According to the Shin Bet’s 2012 annual report, one-third of the approximately 100 “significant attacks” it thwarted from Gaza, the West Bank, and within Israel in 2012 were kidnapping attempts.

One IDF officer recently conceded that while Israeli authorities “have been able to thwart the kidnapping attempts … the scope is extraordinary, and it is clear we will not be able to foil these attempts forever.”

In recent months, Israeli authorities have exposed a number of Hamas terror cells in the West Bank. On March 13, the Shin Bet revealed that Hamas’ Interior Minister Fathi Hammad has been at the forefront of the terror group’s efforts to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank, including kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks.

Less than two weeks earlier, authorities announced the arrest of members of a Hamas cell in Hebron that “intended to carry out various terror attacks — but were arrested before executing their plans.” On Feb. 6, Israeli authorities reported the thwarting of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad kidnapping plot.

In late January, Israeli authorities announced the arrest of approximately 20 Hamas terrorists who were trying “to establish a local headquarters in Hebron” and were “planning to kidnap an IDF soldier.”

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