Tel Aviv Gunmen ‘Were Inspired by Islamic State’

Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images
Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images

JERUSALEM (AFP) –  The two Palestinians who shot dead four Israelis at a popular Tel Aviv nightspot last month had drawn inspiration from the Islamic State group, security officials said Monday.

Cousins Khaled Makhamrah, 20, and Mohammad Makhamrah, 21, both from Yatta, south of Hebron in the occupied West Bank, opened fire at a cafe at Sarona Market in Israel’s commercial capital on June 8, killing four and wounding 15.

The two “were inspired by the Islamic State group to carry out the attack, without officially joining it or getting any form of help or instruction from them,” the Shin Bet domestic security agency said.

A third suspect, 21-year-old Younes Zein from Yatta, was supposed to have taken part in the attack but did not participate, it said, adding that Zein confessed however to providing the other two with weapons.

The three were charged at the Tel Aviv district court on Monday for murder, conspiring to murder and attempted murder, according to the charge sheet distributed by the justice ministry.

It said they planned the assault after a July 2015 arson attack by Jewish extremists in the West Bank that killed three members of a Palestinian family, including an 18-month-old baby.

Khaled Makhamrah wanted to carry out “a revenge attack against Israel in the name of the Islamic State” during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The three took a picture at Zein’s home against the backdrop of the black IS flag, hoping to publish it after the attack.

On June 8, the Makhamrah cousins cut their hair and dressed in dark suits and also carried knives dipped in rat poison in briefcases, said the charge sheet.

Initially, the three planned to shoot passengers on a train, and were driven to the Beersheba train station.

Upon seeing the strict security measures there, they continued to Tel Aviv by taxi and found their way to Sarona after asking passersby where restaurants and cafes could be found, the justice ministry said.

The Shin Bet said they had arrested 10 people from Yatta involved in driving the suspects and preparing the improvised guns they had used.

A number of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have travelled to neighbouring Syria to fight with IS, though Israeli security officials say such influence remains limited.

A recent poll found that 88 percent of Palestinians believe that IS is a radical group that does not represent true Islam.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, 16 percent said the group represented true Islam, a view shared by only three percent in the West Bank.