U.S. downplays Israel discovery of ‘Qaeda’ plot

A U.S. official describes the plot to bomb the American embassy in Tel Aviv as ‘aspirational’

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A U.S. official downplayed Thursday the discovery by Israel of an al-Qaeda cell it said was plotting to bomb the American embassy in Tel Aviv, describing the group’s plans as “aspirational.”

Israeli authorities said Wednesday three members of a militant cell run by al-Qaeda in annexed east Jerusalem had been arrested for plotting a wave of attacks across the country.

A U.S. official, however, said that while the allegations were being taken seriously, they had not been able to confirm any of the details.

“We can’t corroborate that; we probably don’t,” the official said.

“The detainee probably said it but I don’t think we give a lot of credence to that. We don’t have anything to prove it.

“We see it as what we would call an aspirational plot. It does not mean that it is not dangerous, it does not mean that it is not something we and Israel take seriously.”

Israel’s Shin Bet internal security services said two men -- Iyad Abu Sara and Rubin Abu Nagma, both in their early 20s -- had been detained along with a third man, Alaa Anas, in his early 30s.

U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday that Washington was closely following the situation.

“Obviously we’ve been in contact with the Israeli government regarding these threats,” she said.

“Obviously we’re looking into it as well. I don’t have reason to believe it’s not true. I just don’t have independent verification.”

Harf said she did not expect the alleged plot to affect U.S.-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

According to Shin Bet, the three suspects were allegedly recruited online through Facebook by an operative in Gaza called Oraib al-Sham, who was connected to al-Qaeda. No further details were given.

The cell had been set up to help “foreign terrorists” traveling to Israel on fake Russian passports for the purpose of carrying out suicide attacks.