2 Palestinians indicted for carrying out deadly Elad terror attack
As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i and Subhi Emad Sbeihat accused of three nationalistic murders and other attempted killings in May 5 axe rampage
Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.
Prosecutors filed an indictment on Thursday against two Palestinian men for a terror attack in the central city of Elad last month.
On May 5, As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Sbeihat, 20, allegedly hacked and stabbed three people to death and severely wounded several others.
Al-Rifa’i confessed to security forces that he committed the axe attack with Sbeihat, killing Oren Ben Yiftah, a 35-year-old driver from Lod, and Elad residents Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol, both in their 40s. They attacked civilians on city streets and in a park as Israelis celebrated Independence Day with outdoor festivities.
State attorneys filed the indictment at the Central District Court, charging the men with three counts of murder under aggravated circumstances in an act of terror, five counts of attempted murder in an act of terror, and entering Israel illegally, among other charges.
Photos showed Al-Rifa’i smiling as he entered the courtroom in Lod.
The indictment said the pair had entered Israel illegally starting in December 2021 to do electrical work on a synagogue in Elad. In August 2021, Sbeihat decided to carry out a terror attack and die as a “martyr” after one of his friends died during clashes with the IDF, the indictment said. His partner initially rebuffed the proposal.
The men eventually decided to carry out the attack in or around April 2022 because they believed “the State of Israel was harming Muslim worshipers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” the indictment said.
According to the indictment, the defendants put together NIS 11,000 ($3,300) to buy weapons for the attack, but were unsuccessful in procuring them.
They then armed themselves with axes and knives and entered Israel illegally on May 5, the day of the attack.
“Upon arriving in the city of Elad, the accused men murdered the driver who transported them by stabbing him multiple times in the face and neck,” the indictment said.
Sbeihat asked the driver, Ben Yiftah, about the cost of the trip and and took out some money to distract him. Al-Rifa’i then pulled a knife from his bag, grabbed Ben Yiftah’s head to prevent him from moving and “stabbed [him] 21 times in the neck, chest and upper body,” the indictment said. They threw his body from the car and tried to drive but were unable to start the vehicle, so they proceeded to carry out their rampage on foot.
They found one victim, Gol, on stairs near a park and hacked his neck with their axes, causing him to fall. They then chopped his head five more times while he was on the ground, killing him.
They spotted their second victim, Havakuk, who was standing with his 6-year-old son. They also struck him in the neck with an ax, sending him to the ground, where they continued to hack him in the head, face and neck, in front of his son.
They attacked another man in the same manner in front of his four children, and thought they had killed him, but he survived. Another wounded victim was in his mid-70s, and another threw a hot dish of stew at them in self defense. They caused severe injuries to five people and several of the victims fought with the terrorists, the indictment said.
The pair was arrested in a forested area about a kilometer from the scene of the attack after a 60-hour manhunt.
Prosecutors requested that the court extend the defendants’ detention until the end of the trial proceedings. The court extended their remand until the next hearing on July 4.
The Shin Bet internal security service and Israel Police investigated the case.
The Israeli military has mapped out both of the men’s homes in the West Bank village of Rummanah for demolition. The village is located near Jenin, a hotbed of violence and terror activity in recent months.
A week after the attack, Israeli troops arrested two other Palestinians who were suspected of aiding the terrorists.
The terror spree came amid a string of deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank that killed 19 people.
The Israeli army stepped up its West Bank activities in an attempt to crack down on the spiraling violence. The ensuing raids sparked clashes that left dozens of Palestinians dead. Many were gunmen involved in firefights with Israeli soldiers or who took part in violent clashes, while others were apparently uninvolved bystanders.