Israeli police say they arrested two men employed at a popular shopping mall outside Jerusalem’s Old City who were secretly plotting a terrorist attack during the upcoming Jewish new year holiday Rosh Hashanah.
The men, ages 22 and 25, told interrogators they had planned to plant a bomb in the Mamilla Mall, using their cover as cleaners employed there to gain access and avoid suspicion, the Times of Israel reported, citing police sources.
The two men, who weren’t named, are Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem and have ties to a Hamas cell operating out of Ramallah.
The Times of Israel reported the men were arrested several weeks ago in a joint operation of the Israel Police, Border Police, Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security agency, but that information of the planned attack was only made public on Sunday.
“The plan was for the two men – employed as maintenance workers in the Mamilla Mall in central Jerusalem – to smuggle an explosive device into the mall and hide it in their personal lockers until the start of the Jewish festivals, when the mall would be packed with holiday shoppers. The terrorists were then instructed to plant the device, disguised as a gift box, in one of the mall’s busy restaurants, or in another location with a high concentration of Israeli civilians,” Israel National News reported.
Investigators also discovered a weapons laboratory in the home of the Hamas cell leader in Ramallah, a 24-year-old named Hamdi Hasnin Hamdi Rumana.
As residents of Jerusalem, the two suspects carry Israeli identity cards which would have eased their movement around the Israeli capital, whereas residents of the West Bank might be more likely to raise suspicions.
A Jerusalem Post reporter visited the upscale outdoor mall where security appeared to be beefed up. Merchants were on edge but not surprised to hear the news.
“I’ve lived and worked in Jerusalem all my life, so I grew up in this reality,” Asaf Shevach, who owns Shevach Judaica Art Silversmiths, told the Jerusalem Post. “But this is the first time in Mamilla that something like this happened, and to hear it was planned by Arabs who worked here was very upsetting, because they are getting a salary and are citizens of Jerusalem.”
Chaya Soussan, who works at another store said, “I was shocked when I saw the extra security at the entrance this morning and they told me two Arabs planned to blow up the mall for the holiday.”
“More than half of the workers in the mall are Arabs,” she added.
The Mamilla Mall has been promoted as a place where Arabs and Jews can work and shop together. Soussan is cynical about that image.
“You can’t trust Arabs, and Israelis forget that very fast,” she told the Post. “They could work for you for 10 years or 100 years and the day they can, they will stab you in the back.”