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Four arrested for cross-border Hamas terrorism plot

Three held in Germany and one in Netherlands over plans for possible attacks on Jewish institutions, prosecutor says.

The federal prosecutor said a cache of weapons was due to be taken to Berlin in readiness for potential terrorist attacks. [Photograph: Oleksandr Prykhodko/Alamy]


Dan Sabbagh

December 14, 2023


Four people have been arrested in Germany and the Netherlands on suspicion of being part of a cross-border Hamas terror plot that German prosecutors said aimed to obtain weapons to target Jewish institutions in Europe.


Three others were arrested in Denmark on separate terrorism offences, and the country’s politicians indicated they were also Hamas related, while the prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, said the threat was “as serious as it gets”.


The office of Germany’s federal prosecutor said three men had been detained in Berlin and the fourth in Rotterdam on Thursday and they were described as “longstanding members of Hamas” who had links to its military wing and “have participated in Hamas operations abroad”.


One of the group, named only as Abdelhamid Al A, was accused by the prosecutor of having “started searching for an underground weapons cache in Europe no later than spring 2023” on the orders of Hamas leaders based in Lebanon.


The cache had been “created in the past in a conspiratorial manner” by Hamas, the prosecutor’s office added. “The weapons were due to be taken to Berlin and kept in a state of readiness in view of potential terrorist attacks against Jewish institutions in Europe.”


During October, the month of Hamas’s deadly assault on Israel, three of the four men “travelled repeatedly from Berlin to look for the weapons”, the prosecutor continued, with the fourth man accused of providing assistance.


The initial account suggests any terror plot was not particularly advanced, although it comes after counter-terror officials across Europe warned that attacks could increase as a consequence of the war in Gaza, which began on 7 October after Hamas fighters launched a cross-border raid into Israel, killing 1,200 people.


Earlier this month, the European commissioner for home affairs, Ylva Johansson, warned there was “huge risk of terrorist attacks in the European Union” over the holiday season, saying the Israel-Hamas war was increasing the risk of violence elsewhere. A similar warning was made by the British MI5 chief, Ken McCallum, in October.


A German tourist was killed in Paris and two others injured in a knife and hammer attack near the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of December. A 26-year-old French man was arrested and charged, and prosecutors said he had sworn allegiance to Islamic State and was under psychological surveillance for mental health problems.


However, the publicly-voiced warnings have been largely about lone actor terrorism, violent attacks conducted by an individual radicalised by the war in the Middle East, rather than a plot directed from abroad, as indicated by the German prosecutor’s statement, released in German and English on Thursday afternoon.


The German authorities gave the first names and the initials of the surnames of the four arrested: Abdelhamid Al A, born in Lebanon; Mohamed B, an Egyptian national; Nazih R, a Dutch national who police in the Netherlands said was aged 57; and Ibrahim El-R, born in Lebanon.


All three who were arrested in Germany will be brought before a judge on Friday, who will also decide in the case of Ibrahim El-R whether to issue a full arrest warrant. They have been accused by the German federal prosecutor of being members of a foreign terrorist organisation.


One of the Hamas leaders they were said to be linked to was named as Khalil Hamed al-Kharraz, the second in command at the Izz ad-Din al-Qassem brigades, the military wing of Hamas, who was killed in southern Lebanon by Israeli bombing in late November.


Hamas has ruled Gaza since 2006 but its military and political wings are designated as terror organisations by the EU, UK and US. Founded in 1987, it rose to prominence through a series of suicide bomb attacks in Israel, beginning in 1993, but the group is not noted for conducting terrorist activities farther afield.


Danish police said their investigation revealed “a network of people has been preparing a terrorist act” that ran across international borders and involved criminal gangs, according to Flemming Drejer, a police chief superintendent. But officers later clarified the arrests in Denmark and Germany were not directly connected.


At a meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, Frederiksen offered more context. “It is of course – in relation to Israel and Gaza – completely unacceptable for someone to bring a conflict elsewhere in the world into Danish society,” she said.


Danish police said they would increase their public presence in coming days, in particular in Copenhagen and around Jewish localities. A planned Hanukkah celebration at Copenhagen’s city hall square was cancelled as a precaution.


The Mossad Israeli intelligence agency said police in Denmark had “arrested seven terrorists acting on behalf of the Hamas terrorist organisation” and had “thwarted an attack, the goal of which was to kill innocent civilians on European soil”. It accused Hamas of striving to expand its activities in Europe, although its statement made no mention of Germany or the Netherlands.


© 2023 Guardian News & Media Limited

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