Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan maintained on Thursday that Wednesday’s fatal car ramming in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran was a “terror attack,” despite the release of police video that appeared to show that police fired on the driver of the vehicle before he accelerated into a group of police officers.
Wednesday’s incident occurred when Umm al-Hiran resident Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an rammed his vehicle into a group of cops carrying out a demolition order against homes in the unrecognized Negev village, killing policeman Erez Levi, 34, from the city of Yavneh in central Israel.
Abu Al-Qia’an was shot and killed by police.
Police have accused Abu Al-Qia’an of jihadist sympathies and called the attack “terrorism” and “murder.” Residents and activists opposing the demolition orders rejected the accusation and insisted Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police before the ramming, and was not in control of the vehicle when it slammed into Levi and other officers.
Erdan continued to defend the police’s version of events Thursday, telling Army Radio that “the unequivocal conclusion of the police” is that the car-ramming was a terror attack.
“The situation report at the moment based on what police have investigated and from the information they have received, as well as [Israel’s domestic security agency] the Shin Bet, says it was a terror attack,” he added.
The public security minister said the police’s conclusion that the car-ramming was a terror attack is based not just on the video of the incident, but also on “materials found that indicate [Abu al-Qia’an] studied and gathered information about this subject [of car-ramming].”
“All this, along with additional information from the Shin Bet and from the scene, show that we are talking about a terror attack,” he said.
Erdan also said it was suspicious that Abu Al-Qia’an “set out from his house in his jeep with the lights off and refused to stop,” and that after police fired “shots in the air and at his tires, instead of stopping the driver directed his jeep toward the group of police officers.”
Erdan added that at the end of the video the vehicle can be seen breaking right, implying that Abu Al-Qia’an was in control of the car and intentionally targeted police officers.
While conceding that there is a possibility that Abu Al-Qia’an accelerated because he was frightened by the gunfire, “according to his behavior it appears that his intention was to carry out a car-ramming attack,” Erdan said.
In a separate interview Thursday with Israel Radio, Erdan said there was no prior “intelligence there was any intention to carry out a car-ramming attack.”
The public security minister also repeated claims he made Wednesday that Israeli-Arab MKs helped incite the violent clashes that followed the car-ramming, singling out Joint (Arab) List leader Ayman Odeh for “fanning the flames.”
Erdan accused Odeh of having “remained [in Umm al-Hiran] the night before in order to lead the violent thugs” that scuffled with police.
Odeh, who was injured in the clashes following the car-ramming, told reporters Wednesday that he was there as part of negotiations to find a compromise to the demolition of the homes.
“We nearly closed all of the details. We reached a compromise that the residents of Umm al-Hiran accepted. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has already marked the Arab population as public enemy number one, cruelly decided to destroy an entire village, to shoot and kick men, women, and children.”
In response to Wednesday’s deadly clashes and home demolitions, Arab leaders called a day-long strike for Thursday, while hundreds of protesters in a half-dozen Israeli cities took to the streets Wednesday to denounce “the bloodshed and the destruction of homes in the Negev.”