Monday, December 26, 2005

IDF, Shin Bet set up joint team to hunt for Hebron terror cell

From Haaretz:

The Israel Defense Forces and Shin Bet security service recently set up a special joint investigative team in an effort to capture the Hamas cell responsible for murdering six Israelis in the southern West Bank over the past six months. The relatively rare measure was taken due to the difficulties they have had in tracking down the cell of shooters.

The cell is responsible for three terrorist attacks along West Bank roads: the murder of two teenage boys at a hitchhiking stop outside the settlement of Beit Hagai near Hebron; the murder of two young women and a boy at a hitchhiking stop in Gush Etzion; and the murder of a Beit Hagai resident near the settlement 10 days ago. The murders followed the same pattern - shots from a moving car at a relatively exposed target. In every case, the murderers got away, and eyewitnesses were unable to provide significant details.

The Hebron area cell is the most deadly one operating in the West Bank. Intelligence officials believe it is comprised of Hamas members who live in Hebron or a nearby village. The cell appears to maintain a maximum degree of compartmentalization. Moreover, Hamas ordinarily refrains from claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks. After the latest attack, an announcement was issued by Fatah and Islamic Jihad claiming responsibility for the murder, but the IDF and Shin Bet consider this announcement bogus.

Unlike a suicide bombing, which necessitates the involvement of a relatively long chain of people (bomber, recruiter, bombmaker, driver, "operations officer" and accessories), deadly shooting attacks only require a small number of participants. The fact that the cell in question is small makes it harder to expose.

Furthermore, Israeli intelligence has for years had trouble infiltrating the compartmentalized networks of the Islamic organizations in Hebron, among other reasons because they are frequently built on a clan basis, with members often drawn from a single family. The new joint team is meant to facilitate the development of new methods of operating.