The Hamas terrorist organization used its television network in a bid to communicate with and direct Arab terrorists inside Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency revealed Wednesday morning.
While Hamas is based in the Gaza Strip, separated geographically from Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem, it attempted in recent years to increase its influence outside of the coastal enclave. The terror group has a significant presence in the south Hevron hills area in Judea, and has been working to expand its operations through Palestinian Authority-controlled territory.
According to the Shin Bet report released on Wednesday, Hamas has been using its Al Aqsa television network to reach potential terrorists in not only Judea and Samaria, but also in the Israeli capital city.
The official Hamas satellite television channel used secret coded messages in its broadcasting to signal directions to sleeper cells in Judea, Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem, the Shin Bet reported.
In recent years, Israeli security forces have arrested dozens of Arab terrorists in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem who have been linked to sleeper cells directed by Hamas leaders in Gaza. Only in late 2018, however, did Israeli officials uncover the method used by Hamas to direct its cells outside of the Strip.
In October 2018, Israeli security forces uncovered a Hamas-directed terror cell which had been plotting an attack on Israeli targets.
Over the next few months, members of the cell explained to Shin Bet agents during interrogation the methods used by Hamas to direct terrorists in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
One of the cell members arrested in late 2018, 21-year-old Yattah resident Qutayba Al Nawaj’a, was first recruited via Facebook by Hamas agent Mohammed Arbid. Arbid put Al Nawaj’a in touch with a Hamas terrorist, who sought to enlist Al Nawaj’a in an upcoming attack.
Since the communications all took place online, Al Nawaj’a was unsure if he was in fact chatting with Hamas members.
To prove their identities, the Hamas terrorists told Al Nawaj’a to tell them which verse from the Quran to recite, then watch for it on a specific show on Al Aqsa the next day. As promised, the station aired a segment the next day, during which the host discussed the verse Al Nawaj’a had selected.
Once Al Nawaj’a had been recruited, Hamas agents said he would carry out a suicide bombing in the Israeli city of Lod. The attack would target a bus in the city, with Al Nawaj’a detonating an explosive belt hidden under his clothing.
Israeli security forces arrested Al Nawaj’a just days before the planned attack.
Other Hamas recruits told Shin Bet agents the Al Aqsa network had been used in a similar manner to verify their handlers’ identities.
Bahaa Shuja’iya of Deir Jarir, 21, a student of religious studies at Abu Dis University, was the leader of Hamas’s clandestine student cell at the university.
Shuja’iya was released from prison in May 2018 after two years’ imprisonment. He had been convicted of involvement in terrorist activity carried out by a cell recruited by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to carry out shooting attacks and suicide bombings against Israelis.
Shuja’iya was detained for questioning on 16 December 2018. His questioning indicated that several months after his release from prison, Shuja’iya was contacted by a Gaza-based Hamas operative via Facebook. The Gazan operative offered Shuja’iya to participate in military activity, adding that people from the Al Aqsa channel proposed that Shuja’iya operate on behalf of Hamas.
The Gazan operative communicating with Shuja’iya was Moussa Alayan of Jabalya, 24, a Hamas member who identified as a journalist on social media.
Ahmad Abu Aysha of Nablus, 23, was detained for questioning on 26 December 2018. Abu Aysha’s questioning indicated that he was approached by members of Hamas in the Gaza Strip with the aim of advancing military activity. He also received messages via the Al Aqsa TV channel using an MO similar to that described above.
Abu Aysha's questioning showed that after being approached by the Gazan operatives, he recruited Hamas operative Said Issa of Nablus, 24, to carry out a stabbing attack within Israel. This plan was inspired by the Itamar attack in 2011, in which five members of the Fogel family were killed.
Alaa Sharawna, 26, originally from Silwan, resided in eastern Jerusalem and possessed an Israeli ID card. Sharawna was detained for questioning on 8 January 2019. Sharawna’s questioning indicated that he had been recruited by members of the military wing of Hamas in the Gaza Strip to establish a military cell.
According to Sharawna's questioning, members of Hamas’s military wing – Mohammad Arbid, Mohammad Aqel, and Mohammad Abu Kweik – gave him tasks, such as filming points of interest in Jerusalem. They had also dispatched a courier from the Gaza Strip to Sharawna.
In another case, Hamas terrorists communicating with potential recruits used the Al Aqsa network to prove their credentials by having a host of a show perform specific actions. For instance, the Hamas agent said that the next day, the host would put down a coffee mug at the beginning of the show and recite lines from a specific song.
“This activity by Hamas's military wing is yet another one in the series of attempts by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to carry out terrorist attacks by recruiting operatives in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. All these have been disrupted by the ISA in recent years, leading to the arrests of dozens of young operatives in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem,” a senior Shin Bet officer said.
“Hamas’s attempts to initiate this activity have failed again and again. Still, they shed light on the strategy chosen by Hamas to try to destabilize the situation in Judea and Samaria at any cost. Ongoing activity by the clandestine terrorist infrastructure run by senior operatives of Hamas in the Gaza Strip is a dangerous destabilizing factor that poses a significant and immediate threat to the situation in the region.”
“Hamas operatives are particularly determined to recruit to military activity operatives from East Jerusalem with Israeli IDs, who have ready access to Israel. The discovery of this infrastructure highlights once again how relentlessly Hamas takes advantage of Judea and Samaria residents to carry out military activity on behalf of Hamas in the Gaza Strip.”