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April 03, 2003

First Bomb Making Lab Discovered In Israel

Jerusalem ( - In an unprecedented incident, Israeli security forces uncovered an explosives laboratory run by the Islamic Jihad in an Israeli Arab town and arrested a three-member Israeli Arab cell intending to help carry out a suicide bombing in Israel, the prime minister's office said on Monday.

It is not the first terror attack involving participation by Israeli Arabs, who often have relatives in the West Bank and Gaza Strip but it is the first case of the discovery of a bomb-making factory here. Because they possess a "blue" Israeli identity card, Israeli Arabs can pass easily through Israeli army checkpoints leaving the West Bank.

Muhammed Masri, who headed the cell, is an Israeli citizen from Jaljuliya. His mother is a Palestinian from the West Bank town of Tulkarm.

Late last year, Masri allegedly met Islamic Jihad militant Nimr Khalil while on a family visit to Tulkarm.

Khalil later allegedly asked Masri to help a suicide bomber infiltrate Israel and introduced him to two Islamic Jihad activists, who gave him a detailed list of bomb-making materials and 2,000 shekels (about $425) with which to purchase the goods, the prime minister's office said in a statement.

Masri made the purchase, began to assemble the items and enlisted the help of two other Israeli Arabs, Iman Abu Kishak and Fadel Abed, according to the accusations. Masri also allegedly purchased a phony Israeli ID to help the suicide attacker get into Israel.

The cell was also accused of perpetrating firebomb attacks, which caused no injuries. The three were arrested recently before they had a chance to help carry out the suicide attack, Israeli officials said.

"Masri told his investigators that he acted from ideological motives and that he had begun to become religiously observant approximately two years ago," the prime minister's office said.

"He added if it were not for his frequent visits to his mother's relatives in Tulkarm, he might not have become involved with fugitive terrorists," according to the prime minister's office.[more]