Autopsy on Bedouin driver may discredit claims of terrorism

Initial findings show police bullet to man’s knee may have caused him to floor gas, unintenionally hit and kill cop Erez Levi, according to TV report

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that crashed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)
Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that crashed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

An initial autopsy report of the Bedouin man accused by Israeli officials of terrorism when he ran over and killed a policeman this week shows that Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, from the village of Umm al-Hiran, may have lost control of his vehicle after he was shot in the knee, causing him to slam into the officer.

According to a report by Channel 10 news on Friday evening, Abu Al-Qia’an’s autopsy indicated that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, smashing it. The bullet wound may have caused Abu Al-Qia’an to lose control of his leg, which may have locked onto the gas pedal of the car he was driving.

Abu Al-Qia’an, a local schoolteacher, was probably killed from a second bullet that hit him in the torso, from loss of blood, Channel 10 reported Friday.

He also could have potentially been saved if he’d been given medical attention immediately, the report said, but was left to bleed to death for about 30 minutes.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)
Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

A group of Border Police officers was overseeing court-ordered home demolitions in the unrecognized Bedouin village on Wednesday morning when Abu Al-Qia’an, a teacher and father of 12, rammed his jeep into a group of officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, a father of two from Yavneh.

Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, was shot and killed by police officers immediately afterwards. His family has rejected police claims that the incident was a terror attack and that he had links to the Islamic State terror group, as police have claimed. Relatives said he was not in control of the vehicle when it smashed into police lines because he had been fatally shot.

Residents, activists and eyewitnesses have also claimed that the car only accelerated and hit Levi after police shot at the driver, causing him to lose control.

Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed in an alleged car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)
Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed in an alleged car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)

But police, as well as Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, have insisted the incident was a terror attack. They have accused Abu Al-Qia’an of jihadist sympathies and called the attack “terrorism” and “murder.”

The predawn incident took place as police were carrying out a demolition of several homes in the unrecognized village.

Israeli officials quickly termed the incident a terror attack and pointed to evidence Abu al-Qia’an had Islamist ties.

After video footage was released, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials reiterated that the incident was a terror attack.

“He was killed in a vehicular terror attack,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.

The deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, said the incident was “a deliberate attack. This is clear. This is a fact. There is no other explanation, and anyone who tries to offer an alternative explanation wasn’t here at the time and doesn’t understand.”

Amar said there were two lines of officers either side of the road, and “no possible means to claim in this situation that he didn’t see them… He hit them. He killed [them].”

Videos of the incident did not definitively resolve the conflicting accounts.

One video, slowed to one-quarter speed, seems to show muzzle flashes from at least three shots coming from the firearm of one officer located next to Abu Al-Qia’an’s vehicle just before it accelerates toward other officers.

Some police sources said officers did fire, but into the air, though they were later reported to have acknowledged firing at Abu Al-Qia’an’s vehicle.

An official police version of the video, which shows the muzzle flashes in its first seconds, points out that Abu Al-Qia’an’s headlights were off as he drove past the officers.

After the ramming, the vehicle is seen swerving to the right, then correcting to the left before coming to a stop as a police vehicle rushes into its way.

Oriel Eisner, 26, an activist for the Center for Jewish Non-violence who said he witnessed the incident, confirmed to The Times of Israel that police fired at the vehicle before it accelerated. Eisner speculated that the driver was trying to leave the village in order to avoid confrontation with police.

An earlier video put out by a police spokesperson showed the predawn dark and the sense of confusion that prevailed from the perspective of those on the ground.

Tensions at the site quickly escalated following the killings of the police officer and driver, with clashes breaking out between local residents, activists and Arab lawmakers trying to reach the scene, while Arab Israelis planned protests at 10 sites across the country against the demolitions.

Joint (Arab) List faction leader MK Ayman Odeh was struck in the head — by a sponge-tipped bullet, by a tear-gas canister, or by a misdirected rock thrown by a protester, according to conflicting reports — and several other people were reportedly seriously wounded.

A spokesperson for Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba, where Odeh and at least one moderately wounded police officer were treated, said doctors could not say definitively what caused Odeh’s wounds.

Dov Lieber contributed to this report.

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