As Shin Bet probes motive in teen’s murder, politicians say it was terror

Security agency, which generally only investigates terror-related incidents, holding suspect from Hebron in Ori Ansbacher’s killing

Ori Ansbacher (Courtesy)
Ori Ansbacher (Courtesy)

While the Shin Bet security service, which is running the investigation into the brutal murder of Ori Ansbacher, says it is still investigating the motive of the detained Palestinian suspect, politicians on Sunday were characterizing the Israeli teen’s death as a terror attack.

The police force — which was first to probe the killing on Thursday in the woods at the Ein Yael nature center in south Jerusalem — quickly handed the investigation over to the Shin Bet. While police have continued providing forensic assistance, the implication of the intelligence agency taking the lead role is that the murder is being treated as a terror attack.

Nonetheless, the Shin Bet released a statement Saturday saying that “the probe is ongoing and along with it the motive of the murderer is also being investigated.” Additional details regarding the circumstances of Ansbacher’s death have been barred from publication.

For their part, ministers and politicians have been quick to say that the killing was a terror attack.

In a Saturday statement, President Reuven Rivlin referred to the attack as terrorism, saying: “Personally, and on behalf of all Israelis, I would like to thank the security forces for capturing the despicable terrorist who murdered Ori Ansbacher. We will not be deterred and we will not cease our uncompromising fight against terrorism.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with President Reuven Rivlin during the Israel Prize ceremony at the International Conference Center in Jerusalem on May 2, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked similarly told Channel 13 news Saturday that “we should not hide the truth. He killed Ori because she was a Jewish girl.”

“The military prosecution needs to ask for the death penalty,” she added.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday that the death penalty should be used in certain circumstances.

“If the murderer abused his victim and if we understand that there is no way to rehabilitate him, and in cases of the murder of a family, the death penalty should be used,” Erdan said.

“When a Palestinian illegally staying in Israel commits a heinous murder of a Jew, it definitely should be classified as a nationalistically motivated murder,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what he does or doesn’t say in his interrogation. I hope the relevant authorities understand that, and if not — it should be signed into law.”

Other right-wing lawmakers, including Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman and Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich, also demanded legislation sanctioning the death penalty for convicted terrorists.

Israeli security forces arrest a Palestinian man in Ramallah suspected in the murder of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher on February 8, 2019. (Israel Police)

The victim’s aunt Na’ama Cohen also asserted Sunday that the murder was nationalistically motivated. “This is the healthy logic,” she told reporters. “An Arab does not just go for a walk in the forest with a knife. If he went for a walk with a knife, he had one clear purpose — to murder.”

For his part, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to take a more cautious line similar to that of the Shin Bet. He refrained from explicitly branding the incident a terror attack, instead calling it a murder.

“On Thursday, Ori Ansbacher was viciously murdered,” Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting. “I want to praise security forces who acted with exemplary swiftness and within several hours captured the murderer.”

He then echoed a statement he released Saturday night, saying that “Israel’s long arm reaches anyone who harms us and we settle accounts with those who do [harm]. I wish to express my condolences to the Ansbacher family and to give them strength during their time of heavy grief,” he added.

He proceeded to say the government would move quickly to implement a recently passed law to deduct payments to the Palestinian Authority by the amount it pays convicted terrorists, possibly implying a connection between both subjects.

Just a day after the murder, security forces captured the suspect hiding in Ramallah who was later identified as 29-year-old Arafat Irfayia from Hebron.

A spokesman for the Shin Bet said Irfayia had been spent time in prison for security-related offenses and that he had crossed into Israel without a permit before carrying out the murder. Hebrew media reported that the suspect is affiliated with Hamas, though neither the terror group nor others have claimed responsibility for the attack.

Israeli security forces search the scene where a body of a 19-year-old woman was found in Ein Yael, in the outskirts of Jerusalem, February 8, 2019 Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Irfayia could theoretically be eligible for a salary or stipend from the Palestinian Authority if the murder is declared a terror attack.

Ansbacher, from the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, was found dead in the woods at the Ein Yael nature center late Thursday after she was reported missing earlier in the day.

Citing the suspect’s own account under questioning, the Shin Bet said in a statement Saturday night that Irfaiya left his home in Hebron on Thursday armed with a knife and made his way toward Jerusalem, where he spotted Ansbacher in the woods and fatally attacked her.

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