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Israeli Arab arrested in bombings, says plan was to bomb two buses

JERUSALEM, Sept. 22 (JTA) – An Israeli Arab arrested in connection with two car bomb blasts earlier this month has told investigators the explosives were intended to be planted on buses. Ibrahim Abed al-Magid Salah, 20, confirmed the assessment of investigators that the bombs exploded prematurely in Haifa and Tiberias and were not intended to be used in suicide attacks. Salah said he and three other men, who died when the bombs exploded prematurely, planned to plant the bombs on two major bus lines, Haifa-Jerusalem and Tiberias-Jerusalem. Salah, who was in Haifa with his partner, said he survived because he left the car moments before the blast to buy something to drink. Along with the three who died in the blasts, one Israeli woman was seriously hurt. The Sept. 5 explosions came one day after Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Wye II land-for-security accord in Egypt. The discovery that Israeli Arabs were involved in the attacks raised concerns because no members of that community, which makes up one-fifth of the country’s population, had previously been involved in terror attacks against Israeli targets. Those concerns were heightened when it was revealed that the four alleged perpetrators and six other suspects arrested in connection with the explosions had links to the Islamic Movement in Israel – which in turn may have been acting in collusion with Hamas operatives abroad. The four perpetrators were from the Galilee villages of Mashad and Daburiya. The head of the cell, local cleric Amir Masalha, was killed in the Tiberias blast. He is believed to have recruited the three other bombers, including Salah, and to have received his directives from Hamas officials abroad, possibly in Jordan. Investigators believe the bombs used in the attacks were prepared by Hamas’ military wing in the West Bank. Public Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami met with top security officials Sunday to discuss possible steps to be taken against leaders of the Islamic Movement who incite against Israel. The government is expected to discuss their recommendations in the coming days. Meanwhile, the head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, Ami Ayalon, said Tuesday that he believes Hamas has enough operatives to carry out mass terrorist attacks against Israel. Briefing a legislative committee, Ayalon added that statements by Hamas officials regarding attacks against Israel had recently become more extreme. In a related development, Jordan arrested three Hamas officials when they arrived in Amman from Tehran on Wednesday. Last month the Jordanian government closed Hamas offices in Amman and issued arrest warrants for the three – Khaled Mashaal, Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook and Ibrahim Shosheh – who were at the time in Iran. Barak welcomed the arrests, saying they prove that Jordan wants to put a “limit on the operational latitude of an extremely dangerous organization.”