- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 23, 2003

JERUSALEM — A man suspected of being a Jewish extremist told investigators his group had planned simultaneous attacks on Muslim worshippers at mosques in Jerusalem, including at Islam’s third holiest shrine, a security official said yesterday.

The attacks were meant to avenge victims of Palestinian violence, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In recent weeks, Israel’s Shin Bet security service has been investigating Jewish extremists in connection with shootings in which eight Palestinian civilians were killed.

Shahar Dvir-Zeliger, the suspect, told investigators the attacks were to occur during Friday prayers, when the Al Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem and mosques across Israel usually are crowded, the official said. Muslims account for nearly 20 percent of the country’s 6.6 million population.

Planning for the attacks began last year but was still in the early stages, with the group collecting intelligence on targets, the security official quoted Mr. Dvir-Zeliger as saying.

Mr. Dvir-Zeliger was charged last week with stealing weapons from the Israeli military, and prosecutors said he was procuring arms for Jewish vigilantes suspected of killing Palestinians.

Police also found a large weapons cache in a West Bank cave, including M-16 rifles, machine guns, three antitank rockets, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and dozens of grenades — all stolen from the Israeli army.

Israeli authorities detained nine persons suspected of belonging to a Jewish terror cell. Three were charged and the rest were released.

The emergence of the Jewish militant group is reminiscent of the so-called “Jewish Underground” that attacked Palestinians in the 1980s. At the time, the Shin Bet thwarted plans by militants to attack the Al Aqsa compound.

The disputed Jerusalem hilltop is revered by Muslims as well as Jews. Two biblical Jewish temples destroyed by invading armies stood on the site that Muslims mark as the place where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

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