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Israel says it prevented Al Qaeda attack on US Embassy

JERUSALEM — Israel said Wednesday that it had foiled an ‘‘advanced’’ Al Qaeda plan to carry out a suicide bombing on the US Embassy in Tel Aviv and bomb other targets, in what analysts said was the first time the global terrorism network’s leadership has been directly involved in plotting an attack inside Israel.

The Shin Bet intelligence agency said it had arrested three Palestinians who allegedly plotted bombings, shootings, kidnappings, and other attacks.

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It said the Palestinian men, two from Jerusalem and one from the West Bank, were recruited by an operative based in the Gaza Strip who worked for Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri.

The State Department said the United States was not yet able to corroborate the Israeli claims.

While a number of groups inspired by Al Qaeda have carried out attacks against Israel before, this appeared to mark the first time an attack was directly planned by Al Qaeda leaders.

Shin Bet said the Palestinians planned to attack a Jerusalem conference center with firearms and then kill rescue workers with a truck bomb. Al Qaeda also planned to send foreign militants to attack the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on the same day, it said.

It said five men whose identity and nationality were not disclosed were to fly into Israel with fake Russian passports to attack the American embassy. It was not clear where the men are located.

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The Palestinian operatives had planned on several other attacks, it said. One included shooting out the tires of a bus and then gunning down passengers and ambulance workers.

The agency said the plot was in ‘‘advanced planning stages’’ but gave no further information on how close the men got to carrying it out. It said the Palestinians from Jerusalem had used their Israeli resident cards to scope out and gather intelligence on targets. They were arrested in the past few weeks, it said.

A number of Al Qaeda-inspired groups have carried out rocket attacks from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, as well as shootings in the West Bank. Israeli intelligence calls these groups part of a ‘‘global jihad’’ movement.

Aviv Oreg, a former head of the Israeli military intelligence unit that tracks Al Qaeda, said the plot marked the first time it has been directly linked to an attempted attack in Israel.

‘‘This is the first time that Ayman al-Zawahri was directly involved,’’ he said. ‘‘For them, it would have been a great achievement.’’

Shin Bet said the three suspects made contact with Al Qaeda over the Internet. It said they planned on traveling to Syria — where various jihadist groups are battling the forces of President Bashar Assad — for training.

Oreg said that many foreign fighters fighting the Assad regime are from Chechnya and predominantly Muslim parts of Russia and speculated that the militants with the phony documents would be from there.

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