Israel's new export: an Islamic Jihad terror cell

The long march to freedom

By Mordechai Kedar, July 1, 2010
The seven accused men in court in Nazareth this week. They claimed they were inspired by Osama bin Laden

The seven accused men in court in Nazareth this week. They claimed they were inspired by Osama bin Laden

This week it emerged that charges have been issued against seven young Muslim citizens of Israel, who are accused of setting up a terror cell inspired by Islamic Jihad.

Three of them confessed to the murder of cab driver Yefim Weinstein seven months ago, the attempted murder of a Jewish pizza delivery boy, and burning of buses hired by Christian pilgrims. The men, whose arrest two months ago was under a gag order until Monday, were also charged with the attempted murder of a Christian they believed had cursed the prophet Mohammed, as well as kidnapping, assault and weapons offences.

Their activity was discovered after two of them tried to reach Somalia to join radical Islamic groups in their jihad. When they landed in Kenya, they were apprehended by the authorities, who returned them to Israel. There they were interrogated and their cell exposed.

In court, they were asked by a reporter who showed them the way of jihad. They answered with a smile: "Osama bin Laden".

Of course, they wanted to identify themselves with the hero of Islamic radicalism. But they also meant to hide the identity of the man who really did inject them with this ideology.

A hint was found in the morning papers, which noted that for the past two years, the men had been meeting in the Shihab Al-Din mosque in Nazareth. The head of this mosque has been attracting attention for quite some time. Sheikh Nazem Abu Salim, nicknamed "Abu Osama the Nazarene", stands at the head of a group called "Ansar Allah" (Supporters of Allah), which is centred in his mosque. His website includes graphic elements which are reminiscent of the sites serving the global jihad organisations. His anti-Israeli attitude is even more radical than that of Hamas and of the infamous leader of the Islamic Movement in northern Israel, Raad Salah, who at least, in practical terms, recognise the Zionist entity.

Last year, he attacked the Hamas leadership in Gaza for killing 28 followers of a jihadist group in a gun battle in the Ibn Taymiyyah mosque. Sheikh Nazem has also blamed Hamas for welcoming Tony Blair, whom he called the "grandson of crusaders", and Jimmy Carter, who delivered Israel Arab recognition by securing the Camp David agreement. In 2009, he attracted some controversy for saying that the Pope could not be allowed to visit Israel because he had spoken negatively about Mohammed, and because he intended to visit the Kotel, thus recognising the Jewish connection to the site.

As he sees it, the Arab rulers are traitors who sacrifice Allah's loyalists to the Americans. His purpose is to establish a Muslim caliphate in all parts of Palestine, with the capital Al Quds.

Sheikh Nazem himself has boasted that his name now heads the list of people promoting the ideas of the Salafi-Jihadi creed, whose essence is to return the Muslim nation to the glories of the past through the jihad.

It turns out that the Israeli security knew the man as well. Attached to the charges served in court against the seven suspects were more than 20,000 pages of investigation files.

So far, 19 young men have been arrested and questioned. Sheikh Nazem told the media that the internal security service has regularly summoned youngsters in his mosque for questioning, aiming to land him in jail.

"The wave of arrests is the continuation of the eternal battle over this land, between the truth of Islam and the lie of Satan," he has said. "The one above has promised victory to his loyalists. If you are upset by the activity for sane Islam, which aims to establish a righteous caliphate, then be upset. If you think that standing by the bleeding wounds of Muslims everywhere - in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Chechnya, Palestine and Gaza - is radicalism and terror, that is a sign that we scare you more than He who sits above."

Sheikh Nazem's attempts to push young Muslim men towards the global jihad is hardly news to the Israeli security services. So hasn't the writing been on the wall for several years? Why did they wait until these Jihadist fighters went overseas? What would have happened had these Israeli jihadists been caught fighting in Iraq, killing American soldiers? If one of them had tried to blow up a plane over the US, what would have happened to relations between Israel and the White House?

We must change, immediately, the attitude of Israeli law enforcement to those who seek to undermine the foundations of the state and its relations with the world. A democracy - active and liberal as in Israel - cannot allow jihadists to operate freely just because of the limitations the state has imposed on itself. That is a suicidal democracy.

Dr Mordechai Kedar lectures at the Bar-Ilan University's Department of Arabic Studies

Last updated: 4:07pm, November 8 2010