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After backlash, police chief defends cops’ response time in deadly Beersheba attack

Kobi Shabtai says officers arrived 4 minutes after getting call, notes police cannot be posted at ‘every corner of the country’

Police chief Kobi Shabtai at a police ceremony in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Police chief Kobi Shabtai at a police ceremony in Jerusalem, on September 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai on Wednesday rejected criticism of officers’ response time to the deadly stabbing attack in Beersheba the previous day.

Four people were killed and two others injured by a knifeman, in a rampage that started at a gas station and ended at a shopping center. Following his stabbing spree, the terrorist was eventually confronted by an armed bus driver, who attempted to get him to lower his weapon, footage from the scene showed. The attacker lunged at the driver, who shot him alongside a second armed civilian. First responders reported that the stabber died from the gunshot wounds.

Some criticized the police for the time it took until cops arrived, noting that it was passersby who shot the attacker despite the incident lasting eight minutes. Shabtai was heckled by protesters when he arrived at the scene of the attack in the southern city.

“Following the murderous attack yesterday, the Israel Police was put on high alert across the country and we will not hesitate to act against terrorism where necessary,” Shabtai said on Wednesday.

“The investigation of the incident shows that from the moment the report was received by the police, it took officers about four minutes to reach the scene, and immediately after that, additional forces arrived.”

Shabtai said that “four minutes from the moment the report is received at the police station to the moment of arrival is a quick response time. These are four minutes of fast driving on busy roads, but these are also four minutes in a terrorist incident where every second is critical and important.”

A suspected assailant being shot in Beersheba on March 22, 2022. (Screenshot: Twitter)

He again praised the two citizens who shot the stabber for their vigilance.

Some 200 protesters gathered at the site of the attack Tuesday evening, then headed to the local police station, where they demonstrated against what they said was the lack of law enforcement in the south, a complaint that has been voiced by residents for years.

Shabtai said it was unrealistic to expect a police officer to be present “on every street corner, storefront or commercial center in the country.”

He also acknowledged that the police may not be fully equipped to handle the many challenges they face.

“The Israel Police is small in the face of growing tasks. We have been shouting this for over a year in the hope that more resources and manpower will be available to us in the near future,” he said.

The four victims of a terror attack in Beersheba on March 22, 2022: Laura Yitzhak, top left; Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, top right; Doris Yahbas, bottom left; Menahem Yehezkel, bottom right. (Social media, courtesy)

Palestinian media identified the terrorist as 34-year-old Mohammad Ghaleb Abu al-Qi’an, from the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev. Abu al-Qi’an, who died of his wounds at the scene, had served four years in prison for plotting to join the fundamentalist Islamic State terror group in Syria. He was released in 2019. Police said he likely acted alone in Tuesday’s attack.

On Wednesday morning, police said in a statement that two of Abu al-Qi’an’s family members, identified by Hebrew media as his brothers, were arrested and interrogated overnight. They are suspected of knowing about Abu al-Qi’an’s intentions and failing to prevent an act of terrorism. They will be brought before a judge at the Ashkelon Magistrate Court for a remand hearing later Wednesday.

Israel’s judiciary defended Abu al-Qi’an’s sentence and subsequent release from prison, saying it was a “precedent-setting conviction and one of the most severe sentences for offenses that did not include acts, but merely speech and intent.”

On its official Twitter account, the judiciary also dismissed reports “that linked between the sentence from 2016 and the heinous murders committed yesterday, distorting the facts.”

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