Lod’s imam arrested for incitement to terrorism

The sheikh also defended the violent Arab riots in the mixed city during the Hamas-IDF clash last month.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Lod’s top Moslem cleric was arrested Thursday on suspicion of incitement to violence and terrorism following complaints to the police by right-wing MKs.

Sheikh Yousef Albaz had posted to Facebook Tuesday a video clip from a movie showing a villain murdering two police officers with the caption: “The best way to deal with injustice.”

Religious Zionist Party MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir immediately asked the police to investigate, leading to the imam’s interrogation and detainment by the Lahav 433 serious crimes unit, Israel’s rough equivalent to the American FBI.

The sheikh, who regularly delivers sermons in Lod’s Grand Mosque, is connected to the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which Israel outlawed in 2015 due to its close ties with Hamas and the Moslem Brotherhood.

This most recent post follows other inciting rhetoric he had put online during the Arab riots in the mixed city last month in support of Hamas, when the terrorist organization set off an 11-day clash with the IDF by firing thousands of rockets into Israel.

The Arab Desk of the Zionist watchdog group Im Tirtzu, which has been involved over the past several weeks in exposing the imam’s aggressive statements, responded to the arrest with satisfaction.

“This arrest was a long time coming,” the organization said in a statement. “Whoever repeatedly promotes violence against Israelis needs to pay the price, and we expect our law enforcement agencies to bring the full weight of the law down on this inciting sheikh and put him behind bars.”

In an interview with World Israel News last week in the aftermath of the violent clashes, Lod resident Ayelet-Chen Wadler specifically pointed to the cleric’s ongoing incitement.

“We still hear the [local] Imam Sheikh Albaz in the mosque calling for more violence against the Jews,” she said.

The imam had also publicly defended the Arab rioters as scenes of the violence spread over all Israeli media.

“The Arabs didn’t do anything, it is a direct result of the opacity and stupidity of the entire establishment, in addition to the police and those in the area,” Albaz told Radio 103FM at the time.

During the days-long attacks, one Jew was killed and several injured, a number of synagogues and homes were firebombed, and millions of shekels in damages were caused to Jewish-owned cars and other property.

Albaz’s lawyer, Khaled Azbarja, told Walla News that his client was innocent.

Albaz has been “harassed” and “persecuted” by the police, he said, “in the wake of unbridled incitement by the Israeli right that has incited for his arrest throughout the recent period.”

The Regavim Movement, which also filed an official complaint earlier this month, “applauds the initiation of law enforcement procedures against Youssef Albaz and demands that he be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. The horrific violence to which the Jewish residents of Lod were subjected was fueled by the poisonous, anti-Semitic hate speech spewed by Imam Albaz, a member of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement.

“Albaz’s incitement resulted in spilled blood – the lynching murder of Yigal Yehoshua, dozens of wounded citizens and massive damage to private and public property. The time has come to make Albaz pay the price for his incitement. Better late than never,” Regavim stated.

This is not the first time that the sheikh has been accused of incitement to violence. In 2015, Lod municipal council member Amichai Langfeld wrote in a Facebook post about an anti-Israel speech Albaz had given in his mosque.

“Defeat them. Tear them. Destroy them. Take them apart,” Langfeld quoted from the sermon.

The police intend to ask the courts Thursday to extend Albaz’s remand in custody.