Afula knifewoman may have suffered from mental issues

Investigators and others say baffling behavior by Nazareth mother, shot after pulling blade at bus station, may stem from health problems

A still image taken from cellphone footage of security forces surrounding a knife-wielding Israeli Arab woman after she allegedly tried to stab a security guard at Afula bus station on Friday, October 9, 2015.  (screen capture)
A still image taken from cellphone footage of security forces surrounding a knife-wielding Israeli Arab woman after she allegedly tried to stab a security guard at Afula bus station on Friday, October 9, 2015. (screen capture)

A Nazareth woman shot by Israeli police during an alleged stabbing attempt at a bus station earlier this month may have suffered from mental issues, officials said recently.

On October 9, Asaraa Abed of Nazareth was shot in the legs after brandishing a knife in Afula’s central bus station, in what police initially described as a stabbing attempt.

Abed, 30, was hospitalized in moderate condition and has since improved.

Investigators are reportedly struggling to understand the divorced mother of one’s motives behind the attack.

Police say she bought the knife shortly before boarding a bus, in her hometown of Nazareth, before heading to Afula. Police investigators have attempted to understand why she boarded a bus with the knife, amid a wave of Arab stabbing attacks against Jews nationwide, but traveled the entire ride to Afula without carrying out an attack — or why she then brandished it at the Afula terminal around large numbers of police and soldiers.

Investigators are said to be leaning toward a mental-health explanation for her behavior.

According to local media, Abed is the daughter of a well-known Muslim religious leader in the Galilee who is famous for his work on interfaith reconciliation. A former teacher at a school on an Israeli kibbutz, she holds a Master’s degree, and is a medical researcher at a well-known Israeli hospital.

Officials with Nazareth’s social services office, which deals with residents’ mental health issues, told Israeli paper Haaretz that Abed had a file with the office, which had been transferred to security officials, and could lead to her getting a lighter sentence.

Nazareth Mayor Ali Salem, who knows Abed personally, said she had suffered a mental breakdown over her divorce and other family issues in recent years, the newspaper reported.

A childhood friend of Abed’s told Haaretz that many think she was trying to end her own life and not attack Jewish Israelis.

“Asaraa was a gifted student and always exceled in school, but we felt she pulled herself away right after high school. She married at age 18, and from what we know, it was not a successful relationship and she divorced after a year,” the friend said.

A security guard at the terminal initially told police he believed Abed was attacking him when she pulled the knife out of her purse while standing near him.

A video of a standoff between her and police went viral both on Palestinian and Israeli social media, and was posted to mainstream media on both sides.

She is shown brandishing the knife, but not attacking, as several armed police officers and soldiers shout at her to put the knife down. After several tense minutes, a police officer arrives at a sprint, sees the woman holding the knife, and fires at her lower torso.

Hospital officials say they took six bullets out of her body, apparently all fired from the same gun.

Sheikh Zidan Abed, Asaraa Abed’s father, denied his daughter had tried to stab anyone, accusing the security forces of being trigger-happy, echoing claims against police in other incidents.

The lion’s share of attackers in the current wave of violence have been East Jerusalem Palestinians, as well as a number of West Bank Palestinians. Abed was one of only two attackers identified as Israeli citizens.

The other, Alaa Raed Ahmad Ziwad, who is accused of driving his car into a soldier and then stabbing her and others outside Hadera on October 11, was born in the West Bank, but lived in the Israeli city Umm al-Fahm under family reunification rules.

There have been a number of demonstrations in Arab Israeli towns against Israeli policies on the Temple Mount, but most have failed to draw more than a few hundred participants.



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