Israel Cracks First Local Islamic State Cell

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -

Israel said on Sunday it had cracked the first Islamic State cell on its soil, made up of seven Arab citizens who will be prosecuted on charges of planning terrorist attacks and communicating with the extremist group in Syria.

The defendants, including a lawyer who was representing himself in court, denied the charges, claiming they posed no threat to Israel, a Justice Ministry spokesman said after a gag order on the case was eased.

Dozens of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join insurgent groups. Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency said on Jan. 4 it had broken up a cell in Yehudah and Shomron linked to Islamic State.

The seven Israeli Arab suspects, aged 22 to 40 and all from the northern Galil, were arrested in November and December and told investigators they had undergone radical Islamist studies and prepared weapons and funding for attacks, the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Israel’s Interior Ministry said last month it had barred five Arab citizens from traveling abroad for half a year, based on intelligence tip-offs they planned to join jihadi groups in Syria or Iraq.

The ministry is separately examining the possibility of revoking the citizenship of an Israeli Arab suspected of fighting with Islamic State in Syria, from which he travelled to Turkey after being wounded, officials said.

The Shin Bet said on Sunday it had arrested an eighth Arab citizen, from the Negev region, on suspicion of joining Islamic State while he pursued medical studies in Jordan.