JERUSALEM – Two Israeli Arabs were arrested on suspicion they gave strategic information to Al Qaeda, Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Wednesday, the first time Israel has accused any citizens of cooperating with the global terror network.
The Bedouin Arabs from southern Israel transferred information about strategic sites including army bases, skyscrapers and an international airport near Tel Aviv and other crowded places that could be targets in attacks, the Shin Bet said in a statement.
The two were charged on Wednesday with membership in a terror organization, aiding an enemy and transferring information to an enemy with the intent to harm state security, the agency said.
One of the suspects, Taher Abu Sakut, developed ties with fundamentalist Muslims in 2006 after he grew more religious, the release said. In that year, Abu Sakut began going into Web sites associated with Al Qaeda and other extremist groups that call for the destruction of the state of Israel.
Abu Sakut later agreed to join Al Qaeda activities and relayed the strategic information that included hidden routes to enter Israel from the West Bank, the Shin Bet said. At one point, Abu Sakut asked his contacts to connect him with fighters in Iraq and Saudi Arabia with the plan of getting them to carry out attacks in Israel, the release said.
The men were arrested at the end of May and beginning of June, the statement said.
There's no known Al Qaeda presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, though Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have both expressed concern about the group trying to enter the Palestinian areas.
While there are several hardline Muslim groups in the Gaza Strip that have claimed responsibility for attacking Christians, bombing coffee shops and internet cafes because of their perceived Western influence, they do not belong to the global extremist network.
The groups say they are influenced by Al Qaeda. They wear similar dress, use the same hardline rhetoric and Islamic verses in their videos. But the global network has not acknowledged that the Gaza groups are a part of their extremist movement — a key sign that they do not belong to Al Qaeda.
Abbas has insisted that there are Al Qaeda groups in the Gaza Strip, ruled by his rivals, Muslim group Hamas. But Abbas has never presented any evidence to back up his claim.