Three members of an Islamic Jihad cell have confessed to plotting to kidnap an Israeli soldier or civilian around New Year’s Eve, according to information from Israeli security forces that was released yesterday.

After a gag order on the case was lifted, it emerged that three members of the cell uncovered by the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police were taken into custody just after midnight on New Year’s Eve at a checkpoint at Eyal Junction in the Sharon region, based on an intelligence tip.

The suspects − Yusef Warda from the Israeli Arab town of Tira, and Tawfiq Agbariya and Said Jassr from the West Bank city of Jenin − told investigators they had scoured local hitchhiking stations in late December, with the intention of finding a soldier to kidnap.

A Shin Bet investigation revealed that the three had intended to smuggle the abductee into Jenin to be used as a negotiating chip for the release of Palestinian security prisoners jailed in Israel.

Warda and another Israeli citizen, Anas Jabarin from Umm al-Fahm, who is suspected of knowingly providing the cell with weapons and lodging, were set to be indicted yesterday on charges of making contact with a foreign agent and terror group, and conspiracy to commit a crime. Jabarin was also to be charged with weapons violations.

After their arrest, Warda, Agbariya and Jassr told investigators they offered a group of soldiers and civilians a ride, but no one took them up on it.

They adjusted their plan and were seeking to abduct a civilian on New Year’s Eve, on the assumption that it would be easier to kidnap someone who had been drinking alcohol, according to the indictment.

The operation appears to have been organized and funded by an Islamic Jihad operative in Jenin named Majbdi, the brother of one of the two Palestinian suspects.

Detectives from a special police unit found handcuffs, a toy gun, a utility knife, duct tape and a ski cap in the suspects’ car.

Eight other Palestinians from Jenin have been arrested on charges of failing to report the abduction plot.

Security forces learned of the cell’s existence after hearing of a different plot to kidnap a soldier, which turned out to be false. When they stationed soldiers at roadblocks to investigate that report, the details of this case came to light.

In recent months, the Shin Bet has disclosed several attempts to abduct Israeli civilians, but all of those suspected terror cells were taken into custody before they could embark on the operation. The current incident is out of the ordinary because, security forces say, the cell had already begun attempting to carry out the planned abductions, and because they were caught in Israel.

Last month, a cell affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was uncovered in Ramallah. Security forces said it was also plotting to abduct Israelis.

Officers from the IDF Central Command said that nearly every terrorist in the West Bank, even the most amateur among them, was plotting to kidnap Israelis.