The cellphone of one of the three Israeli teenagers who were snatched by Palestinians in the West Bank and killed soon after reportedly transmitted for over an hour after one of the teens called police and said they had been kidnapped.
The transmission could have allowed police to locate the teenagers’ bodies within hours of the abduction by using tracking technology, according to a Haaretz report Wednesday.
The kidnapping of Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, took place south of Jerusalem, from a bus stop in the Etzion bloc, at about 10:15 p.m. on June 12. One of the teenagers placed a call to a police emergency hotline 10 minutes later. The three were killed soon after, Israeli security officials said.
An initial investigation found that at about 11:20 p.m., the killers removed the batteries from two of the teens’ cellphones in order to avoid tracking. The third teen’s cellphone, however, had an internal battery that could not be removed.
The device was disconnected and stopped transmitting only after it was destroyed, apparently when the vehicle in which the youths were transported was torched by the abductors, at about 11:50 p.m., the report said.
In a nearly one-minute-long segment from a recording of the call to the police, first cleared for publication on Tuesday, one of the teenagers can clearly be heard saying that he had been abducted.
“They’ve kidnapped me,” whispers the teen to the operator, as the kidnappers can be heard in the background shouting in Arabic-accented Hebrew at the three youths to keep their heads and hands down. The operator tries to interact with the caller, but receives no answer. Seconds later, several loud noises, which might be gunshots, are heard. Someone in the car is heard groaning. At one point, a voice in the car says in Arabic, “Take the phone from him.” No one in the car speaks from then until the end of the 49-second excerpt of the recording. At the end of the recording, the operator’s supervisor comes on the phone, asking the caller repeatedly where he is.
The kidnappers, apparently realizing that a call had been made, shot the three teens dead at that point in the backseat of the car, military sources confirmed. The abductors proceeded to bury the bodies in a nearby open field and set fire to the vehicle. Police investigators said that within the torched vehicle they found eight bullet casings, a trail of blood, a burnt and torn shirt, a black skullcap and a Hasidic music disc, both seemingly used by the kidnappers in order not to raise suspicion among the teens.
The recording of the call spread quickly across the country through the WhatsApp messaging application Tuesday, apparently prompting the Shin Bet to remove its ban on the publication of the recording.
The call, however, continued beyond the point where the leaked segment cuts off. In the longer, un-aired version of the recording, the two kidnappers are heard speaking to one another in Arabic. The abductors are later heard calling another person and reporting to him that “we’ve got three,” apparently referring to the kidnapped teenagers, Walla reported. The call was disconnected about two-and-a-half minutes after it was placed.
It was not confirmed who placed the call, to the police but the father of Gil-ad Shaar said it was his son.
The bodies of Yifrach, Shaar and Frenkel were found on Tuesday at around 5 p.m., bound and partially buried, in an open field in a hard-to-access area known as Wadi Tellem. The site was less than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from where the teens had been abducted.
The abduction sparked a massive manhunt in the West Bank, and police have faced criticism over their late reaction to the phone call, with many wondering whether the teens’ bodies could have been retrieved earlier had officials responded sooner. The army only began searching for the teens after complaints from parents on the morning of June 13.
A police investigation into the handling of the call led to the dismissals of several officers, and procedures surrounding the hotline were changed.
Lazar Berman contributed to this report.