British consulate at 19 Nashashibi Street in Sheikh Jarrah, E. Jerusalem
Israel announced Monday, Jan. 3, the arrest of two Palestinian staffers at the British consulate in East Jerusalem on suspicion of procuring guns for a Hamas network accused of plotting a rocket attack on the Jerusalem Teddy stadium during a Premier League soccer game. The network was broken up last November .This is the first time foreign consular employees in Jerusalem have been apprehended on terror-related charges.
The Hamas network’s leaders, Mussa Hamadeh and Bassam Al Omry, residents of Jerusalem Arab villages, went on trial before the Jerusalem district court Sunday, Jan. 2. They were charged with membership of and support for a terrorist organization, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, arms trafficking and conspiracy to commit a terrorist crime.
DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources report: the US, British and French consulates in Jerusalem have many Palestinian employees. The arrests at the UK consulate have aroused concerns about their security and vetting procedures.
Israeli security officers patrol the consulates outside the buildings against terrorist attacks, but the consulates are themselves responsible for internal security. Their premises in Jerusalem, like other sensitive parts of the world, are fortresses heavily reinforced against the ever-present terror threat with concrete barriers, extra security and tight screening procedures.
Monday, Jan. 3, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman confirmed the two arrests, saying Britain was urgently seeking confirmation of Israel’s charges that they helped Hamas operatives obtain guns. The spokesman said the two employees had maintenance jobs and did not have security clearance. Their arrests were not connected to their work at the consulate, he added.
However, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, the two arrested men were employed by the British consulate as drivers and they used cars with consular plates for delivering weapons to heads of the Hamas network ,who were plotting to use them for terrorist operations. The Foreign Office spokesman’s claim that the investigation was unrelated to their work at the consulate was technically correct. At the same time, they were caught using consular vehicles for terror-related criminal activity and might well have used their freedom from security checks in and around Jerusalem to smuggle explosives into the consulate building.
The Jerusalem court was informed Sunday that Mussa Hamdeh is a resident of Tzur Baher and Bassam Al Omry, an Israeli citizen, lived in Beit Safafa – both in Jerusalem. Since joining Hamas in 2009 with the intention of pursuing terrorist activity, they have been scouting out targets in the city and had homed in on the big sports stadium as their target.
During that time, Mussa Hamadeh traveled secretly to Saudi Arabia on several occasions to receive instructions from a representative of the Hamas branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and cash for purchasing weapons for attacking Israeli targets. When arrested in November, they had already cached several pistols with the help of accomplices and were looking around for a rifle, explosives and parts for assembling a rocket. Those accomplices, including the two British consular employees, have been questioned and confessed inter alia to firearms offensives.