Likely to be sent to juvenile detention center if convicted

13-year-old Palestinian indicted for killing Border Police officer in East Jerusalem

Muhammad Zalbani accused of stabbing Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed in head and neck multiple times during attack at checkpoint last week; officer was also hit by friendly fire

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Police at the scene of a stabbing attack at a checkpoint near the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. February 13, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police at the scene of a stabbing attack at a checkpoint near the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. February 13, 2023.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prosecutors on Thursday filed an indictment against a 13-year-old Palestinian who stabbed a police officer last week, charging him with aggravated murder for the killing of Border Police officer Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed, 22.

Due to the suspect’s age, he is not expected to be jailed and instead be placed in a juvenile detention center or similar institution.

According to the indictment filed at the District Juvenile Court in Jerusalem, Muhammad Bassel Fathi Zalbani, a resident of the Shuafat Refugee Camp, found a knife as he was leaving the building in which he lives, and allegedly decided to commit the February 13 attack.

Zalbani took a bus heading into Jerusalem that passes through a checkpoint, where he sought to attack security forces.

The indictment said the teen sat at the back of the bus, placed the knife near his leg to be able to draw it quickly, and waited for security forces to board for a routine inspection.

Sawaed boarded the bus and began to question the passengers heading into Jerusalem. When he reached the back of the bus, Zalbani pulled out the knife and stabbed Sawaed in the head and neck multiple times, according to the indictment.

A knife used in a Palestinian stabbing attack against Border Police officers on a bus at the entrance to Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Israel Police)

A civilian security officer who had boarded the bus with Sawaed opened fire at the teen attacker, but one of the shots hit the Border Police officer in the thigh. Zalbani was not hit by the gunfire, and was detained.

Sawaed died en route to the hospital from wounds caused by the stabbing and gunfire.

Zalbani was slapped with a terrorist act of aggravated murder, among other charges.

Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed, who died February 13, 2023, after he was stabbed by a Palestinian and shot by a comrade in East Jerusalem. (Israel Police)

Police said Zalbani acted alone. However, officers detained his parents and brother for questioning shortly after the attack.

Sawaed, from the northern Bedouin village of Hussniyya, was a noncommissioned officer in the force after completing his mandatory service.

The stabbing came amid a string of Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem in recent weeks that have left 11 people dead and several more seriously hurt.

Separately on Thursday, a military court convicted a Palestinian over his involvement in a 2015 killing of an Israeli couple in the West Bank.

Zir Ziad Jamal Amar is accused of being part of a four-man Hamas cell that shot Eitam and Naama Henkin dead as they were traveling in their car near the West Bank settlement of Itamar on October 1, 2015. Their four small children – the oldest was nine years old – were in the back seat and witnessed their murder, but were uninjured.

The court accepted the prosecution’s position that Amar was guilty of the attack, although he was not present at the time of the shooting.

Amar was convicted of two counts of intentionally causing the death of the Henkins. The charge is equivalent to murder in the West Bank military court.

He was additionally convicted of four charges of attempted murder and several other security offenses, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

While not present at the scene during the shooting, Amar was accused by the IDF of planning the attack with the other three members of the cell, providing them with the weapons and ammunition, and making sure Israeli forces were not present at the scene where they intended to carry out the attack.

The other three members have already been sentenced to life plus 30 years for the attack.

Naama and Eitam Henkin, who were killed in a terror attack on October 1, 2015. (Courtesy)

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have been high in recent months.

The Israel Defense Forces conducted airstrikes in the Gaza Strip early Thursday, after Palestinians launched rockets at Israel in an apparent response to a deadly military raid in Nablus a day earlier.

For the past year, the IDF has been conducting near-nightly raids in the West Bank amid a series of deadly Palestinian terror attacks. Around 60 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the year, most of them while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under circumstances that are being investigated.

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