One of the three yeshiva students kidnapped in the West Bank Thursday managed to make a phone call to the police only moments after the abduction is believed to have taken place, according to information cleared for publication by the military censor Sunday afternoon.
Officials said the teenager was heard whispering “We have been kidnapped!” before the call was abruptly disconnected. However, the IDF was only informed of the kidnapping hours later, after one of the students’ parents notified police that he had lost contact with his son. For hours, they thought it was a prank call, Channel 2 reported.
On Thursday night, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were abducted while hitchhiking south of Jerusalem, sparking a wide-ranging manhunt in the West Bank.
The kidnapping is thought to have taken place at around 10:25 p.m. Police received a call from one of the teens a few minutes later. Following the call, police launched a minor investigation, but only briefed the army and the Shin Bet on the incident at 4:00 a.m. on Friday.
A senior police official attempted to deflect criticism and denied any faulty protocol in handling the call, as he said West Bank police receive dozens of false reports of attempted kidnappings on a daily basis. The official, however, vowed to set up a committee in order to examine why the information regarding a possible abduction was not passed on to the military faster.
The officer who had received the call from the abducted teenagers was described by a Channel 2 report as “a young, inexperienced” policeman.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Sunday afternoon that he was aware of claims that police had dropped the ball in failing to relay to the IDF information about the abduction, and that such claims would be examined more closely after the teens were located.
“There are some things that will be looked into, but right now we’re in the midst of efforts to return the boys, not to look bin blame,” he said during a visit to the home of the Naftali Frenkel, one of the abducted teens. “Right now I assign the lion’s share of the blame on Hamas.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Sunday that the Palestinian terror group Hamas was behind the kidnapping. Hamas has denied the claims.
Overnight Saturday, the IDF arrested 80 Palestinians, including senior members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as security forces continued to search for information regarding the whereabouts of the students.
Among those arrested was Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas, along with former ministers and members of the Palestinian parliament, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.
An IDF spokesperson confirmed to The Times of Israel that it believed Hamas was behind the kidnappings.
“According to our current evidence we know that Hamas is responsible for the abduction,” the spokesperson said.
Hamas hailed the “success” of the abduction on Saturday, but a senior official of the group denied that the terror group had any involvement in or knowledge of the incident.
Two little-known Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the kidnapping on Friday, but it was unclear whether either claim had any credibility.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.