Two days after indicting a Palestinian man for the rape of a seven-year-old Israeli girl, law-enforcement officials on Tuesday said “new information” had come to light in the case and ordered additional investigative work by police.
A joint statement by the police and military said that the move came “in order to look into suspicions of additional individuals involved in the crime, and in light of new information received after the case was publicized.”
For the past several months, the investigation had been run by the Modiin Illit’s local police station, but in light of recent events, law enforcement decided to hand the probe over to the more senior Judea and Samaria District’s special investigations unit.
The statement noted that the decision was made in cooperation with top prosecution officials including State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, “in light of the sensitivity of the matter.”
The head of police’s national investigations unit, Gadi Siso, had personally taken over the probe due to the sensitive nature of the case.
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Hebrew media reported that police were looking into the possibility that suspect Mahmoud Qadusa was involved in another case and a law enforcement official confirmed that the Shin Bet security service may become involved in the probe.
In recent days questions have come up regarding details of the charges against Qadusa, who was arrested over a month and a half ago. A gag order had been placed on the investigation, which had gone unreported until Sunday evening, when police announced it had indicted Qadusa, 46, from the central West Bank village of Dir Kadis for the kidnap and rape of the girl in an ultra-Orthodox settlement.
According to the charge sheet, Qadusa works as a maintenance custodian in the victim’s school in the ultra-Orthodox settlement Modiin Illit. There he got to know the girl, and allegedly periodically gave her candy. Relying largely on the testimony of the seven-year-old, police have been unable to determine the exact day, week or even month when the alleged rape took place. The indictment states that the incident took place “between the months of February and April.”
The suspect is accused in the indictment of asking the girl to come with him to a home near the school. When she refused, Qadusa dragged the crying girl to the home against her will, the indictment said.
The home in question is located roughly a kilometer away from the school from which she was allegedly dragged, crying.
Upon their arrival at the home, the indictment alleged, the suspect pinned down the victim with the help of two friends — who also knew the girl — took her clothes off and raped her while the others held her down and laughed.
An Israeli resident of Modiin Illit who has known Qadusa for eight years expressed doubts Tuesday that he was the culprit.
“As far as [prosecutors] are concerned, the girl pointed and they have a suspect, so they don’t care about anything else,” the unidentified man told Channel 13 news.
He also raised questions about the claim that Qadusa had dragged the girl from the school to a home in the Jewish town — during which time she apparently resisted — on what is a walk of at least 15 minutes.
“An Arab man walking in the middle of the day with a girl for 15 minutes, and he pulls her and she falls and cries as the charges claim — that’s impossible,” he said.
The child investigator who questioned the victim wrote in notes obtained by The Times of Israel that the girl could not identify the suspect beyond saying he worked at her school. The investigator referred to her testimony as “weak and incomplete.”
The case against Qadusa is based on the victim’s testimony and her later pointing him out at school while with an adult. That adult was never questioned by police, an official with knowledge of the investigation confirmed.
The investigator wrote she that had “difficulty assessing the reliability of the suspect’s identification [process].”
Nonetheless, police went forward with the indictment after one of the polygraph tests conducted on the defendant found him to be lying in his rejection of the allegations made against him. However, a second polygraph test came back with inconclusive results. No other forensic evidence currently exists tying him to the alleged rape.
The official with knowledge of the investigation said that the victim was only examined by a doctor five days after she told her parents about the incident, which was believed to have taken place more than a week before that. Moreover, she was not examined by a clinic doctor and not by a medical official legally qualified to determine whether she had been raped.
At a hearing earlier this month before the indictment against Qadusa was filed, a police representative initially told the Judea Military Court that the rape had taken place in the suspect’s home and specified a day and time. According to the official who spoke to The Times of Israel, the defendant immediately objected to the claim and said he had an alibi placing him at a home in the settlement near the school. A resident of the ultra-Orthodox town confirmed Qadusa’s alibi whereabouts and told police that he had hired Qadusa to do construction work at the apartment, which he owned.
By the next hearing, when the indictment was filed, police had updated their account to state that the rape had taken place in the apartment where Qadusa had been hired to work, and not in his home in Dir Kadis as initially stated, and further said that the exact timing of the assault was unknown.
The lawyer representing Qadusa asserted Tuesday that his client had been falsely accused and that anti-Arab sentiment was driving the case against him.
Nashaf Darwish told reporters outside a hearing at the Judea Military Court that the prosecution’s version of events “doesn’t add up” and said he was confident that court rulings in the coming days would exonerate his client.
Darwish said that police have been unable to locate any eyewitnesses — including the two accomplices mentioned in the indictment — to corroborate the girl’s story.
The suspect’s attorney slammed lawmakers for the rhetoric they’ve employed against his client. “Just because he is Arab, he doesn’t deserve the presumption of innocence?” he said.
“It’s possible that the victim’s identification [of the defendant] was influenced by conversations the family had with the girl before the police entered the picture,” Darwish quoted the child’s investigator as having written.
While a police official said Monday that the assault did not appear to have been nationalistically motivated, a growing number of right-wing politicians have been calling for it to be treated as a terror attack. Some lawmakers, including Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman and Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, demanded Qadusa be executed.