TEL AVIV – Breitbart Jerusalem on Sunday interviewed Abu Ayna Al-Ansari, a top Salafi militant in the Gaza Strip associated with Islamic State (IS) ideology, about the possibility of IS cells among the Israeli-Arab population.
The possible association of the Tel Aviv shooter, Nishat Melhem, to the Islamic State organization has been a matter of debate on social media after his elimination by Israeli police on Friday.
Melhem, an Israeli-Arab, opened fire at a bar in central Tel Aviv earlier this month, killing two, and then apparently killed a taxi driver while escaping. A week later, he was found in his hometown of Arara and killed when he raised his weapon to police forces attempting to arrest him.
As Breitbart Jerusalem reported, an online pamphlet of unknown origin purporting to represent the Islamic State surfaced Saturday on numerous social media accounts belonging to Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs.
The digital poster, replete with official IS logos, claims Nashat Melhem, the assailant behind last weekend’s Tel Aviv pub shooting, was “one of the supporters of the caliphate in occupied Palestine.”
Israel’s security establishment is treating the pamphlet with cautious skepticism and looking into the origin of the online message.
The Israeli news media mostly ignored the pamphlet, with the exception of the Hebrew edition of Ynetnews, the country’s leading online news site.
Still, Israeli and Palestinian security services have clamped down on cells of Salafists in recent weeks who reportedly joined the Islamic State. Some of those extremists were Israeli Arabs from northern Israel.
Israel’s Shin Bet security agency in December announced the arrest of Israeli Arab youths from Nazareth for declaring allegiance to the Islamic State. The Shin Bet said that during interrogations “it emerged that, in the past year, the youths obtained firearms and trained with them, while becoming more devout during meetings they held. They expressed support for ISIS [Islamic State], and praised the jihad against infidels.”
Two weeks ago, two cousins accused of being Islamic State operatives were arrested in the Nazareth area on suspicion of plotting attacks in northern Israel.
Meanwhile, the report about Melhem’s alleged association with IS, which was initially anonymous, was taken more seriously once the Gaza branch of the IS-supporting Salafi think tank Iben Taymiya made inquiries in Syria and Iraq.
Ansari, a Salafi leader in Gaza, said that IS claimed responsibility for the January 1 attack only after Melhem’s killing because “there is still no direct communication between IS and its supporters in the occupied territories of 1948 [i.e., Israel].”
“But as far as we’re aware, there are a few active mujahedeen among the 1948 population [Israeli-Arabs], and once they received the information from IS supporters on the ground, it became clear that Melhem carried out the attack after he pledged allegiance, together with other activists, to the State and to the Caliph,” he said.
“The late announcement was meant to protect his safety while he was still alive, and to avoid giving the Jews a pretext to carry out massacres in the areas where they believed he was hiding,” he claimed.
“In truth, we don’t know for sure that he carried out the attack on IS’s behest, but we trust the messages of our brothers who attest to his recent adherence to the organization’s ideology,” Ansari concluded.
Q: Are you aware of any IS supporters among Israeli Arabs? If so, are they simply individuals or is there an infrastructure in the process of being created?
A: Undoubtedly, IS has plenty of supporters among our brothers, the 1948 Palestinians. They don’t communicate with us directly, but they do with our brothers in the West Bank, in Jordan, and in Syria. I think they’re only at the support stage, not having arrived at the organizational one quite yet. Their unique situation is understandable, we don’t expect them to declare themselves publicly. They can only operate as individuals and small groups at present.
Q: Does that mean that IS isn’t laboring to create an infrastructure, and will make do with attacks carried out by sympathizers?
A: IS wants all its supporters to work under one framework and one emir. But in areas that the State doesn’t control yet, it encourages sympathizers to operate in its name. The ideal, of course, is that the attacks will be as coordinated and premeditated as possible. But as I said, each place has its own specificity, limits and needs.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.