Center for Strategic Communication

Wael Abu Reda.jpgIsraeli authorities today filed an indictment against Palestinian Wael Abu Reda. According to the indictment, Abu Reda has committed a plethora of security offenses during his time in a number of Palestinian terror groups, including Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hamas’ al Aqsa Defenders.

Israeli authorities said Abu Reda started fighting with Fatah’s al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades around 2003. By 2008, however, Abu Reda had joined Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and during Operation Cast Lead he supposedly commanded four of the group’s cells. In 2011, according to authorities, Abu Reda was approached by a member of the al Aqsa Defenders (AAD), a Hamas proxy group, who asked him to join. Abu Reda agreed and was reportedly given a squad under his command.

During his time with the various terror groups, Israeli authorities say Abu Reda fired on IDF tanks, attempted to fire rockets from Gaza into Israel, laid explosives along the Gaza-Israel border, and provided military training to Palestinians, among a number of other offenses.

Abu Reda’s case first made headlines when the Associated Press reported on June 25 that his family believed he had been kidnapped by Israel, possibly while in Egypt. Two days later, Al Monitor published an interview with a senior Hamas official who appeared to make a reference to Abu Reda. The Mossad “managed to kidnap a young Palestinian man in the Sinai a few days ago and transfer him to Israeli prison — without the knowledge of Egyptian security authorities,” the official said.

On June 30, Reuters reported that Abu Reda was “under arrest in Israel for alleged security offences.” Eleven days later, Israeli authorities partially lifted the gag order on the case.

It is still unclear how and where Abu Reda was arrested by Israeli authorities.

While many will focus on how and where Abu Reda was captured, it will also be interesting to see whether the trial reveals new details regarding the AAD.

The AAD is a Gaza-based terror group linked to Hamas and supported by Hamas’ Interior Minister Fathi Hammad. According to a March 2012 report in Ynet News, AAD allows “Hamas to assert a pragmatic façade in the international arena, while covertly keeping up its military activity.” The report further noted that AAD “is considered a militant faction that wished to split off Hamas due to its seemingly political moderateness.”

The use of aliases to disguise activities of jihadist groups is quite common. For instance, the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba has used multiple aliases to allow the group to dodge international sanctions and continue operations.

A June 2012 report on Hamas by the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) said the AAD was involved in a sniper attack on a convoy that included Avi Dichter, then Israel’s Internal Security Minister, in April 2008. The Shin Bet report also noted that the AAD was responsible for a number of attacks against Israeli troops near the Gaza border.

Wael Abu Reda is not the first member of the AAD to be indicted by Israeli authorities. In June 2011, authorities filed an indictment against Ayub Azam Abu Karim. During interrogation, Abu Karim revealed, according to the Shin Bet, that AAD, in addition to receiving support from Fathi Hammad, is led by Muhammad Subhi Abd al Rahim Tamraz. Abu Karim further said that the primary goal of the AAD is to carry out attacks against Israel while providing Hamas with cover and operational flexibility by allowing a “rogue” actor to be held responsible rather than Hamas itself.

In the past the Israeli Air Force has also carried out air strikes against members of the AAD. For example, in September 2012, the IAF targeted and killed Anis Abu Mahmoud el Anin and Ashraf Mahmoud Salah. El Anin, according to the IDF, “was in the final stages of preparing to carry out a terror attack against Israeli civilians,” prior to being targeted. The IDF further charged that el Anin, a member of the al Aqsa Defenders, had been “involved in a number of attempted terror attacks that included smuggling explosive devices into Israel via the Israel-Egypt border, in addition to directing certain terror activity in Judea and Samaria.”

Over the past year and half, Hamas terror activities, in particular abduction attempts, in the West Bank have been on the rise. In March, the Shin Bet charged that the aforementioned Fathi Hammad, who supports AAD, has been at the forefront of the terror group’s efforts to carry out terror attacks in the West Bank, including kidnappings, suicide bombings, and rocket attacks. Hammad has been using Hamas operatives as well as members of the al Aqsa Defenders, the Shin Bet said.