Israel dismantles al Qaeda cell plotting to bomb US embassy

Israeli security forces have dismantled an al Qaeda cell in East Jerusalem that was plotting to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv, a spokesman for the Israeli prime minister said Wednesday.

“Shabak arrested a terror cell from East Jerusalem that was operated by al Qaeda and planned, amongst other attacks, to bomb the U.S. Embassy,” tweeted Ofir Gendelman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokesman for the Arab media.

Shabak, Israel’s security agency, also known as Shin Bet, announced it had arrested three Palestinians who were recruited online by an al Qaeda operative based in Gaza, according to The Jerusalem Post

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In addition to the U.S. Embassy, their targets included the Jerusalem Convention Center and a bus traveling from Jerusalem to an Israeli settlement in the West Bank called Ma’aleh Adumim, the Post reports.

Senior Israeli officials said Ariv Al-Sham, based in Gaza, recruited the three men separately. The officials said al Qaeda’s main leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, directly gave these orders to Al-Sham.

Al-Sham recruited the men using Facebook and Skype, according to the report.

One of the men, Abu-Sara, was arrested on Dec. 25, and admitted to Israeli authorities he had volunteered to plan a double suicide bombing at the American embassy in Tel Aviv and the Jerusalem Convention Center.

The al Qaeda militants plotted to bring a group of terrorists from abroad to Israel using fake Russian passports. They would have posed as tourists, but would actually have helped to carry out the attacks with suicide bomb vests and a truck bomb.

It’s unclear how far along the men were in their plots before Israeli security officials apprehended them. 

The State Department acknowledged the threats Wednesday at its daily press briefing.

"We’ve been in contact with the Israeli government regarding these threats," Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said. "We employ a wide-range of security measures to safeguard our employees."

The U.S. is working to independently verify the report, Harf said, but the department has no reason to believe the situation is not true.

Harf advised reporters to consult the Israeli government for further details.

She was then asked if the department will step up security measures at the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv as a result of these threats.

"We already have fairly high security measures at our facilities there," she said, adding that the department could explore even stronger security measures if needed.

— This story was updated at 2:38 p.m.