The terrorist who killed four Israelis in Beersheba on Tuesday was reportedly called a “ticking time bomb” by prosecutors in a previous security case and was given a four-year prison sentence.
Mohammad Ghaleb Abu al-Qi’an, 34, killed two women and two men in a ramming and stabbing attack in the southern city before being shot to death by armed civilians.
He was a terror convict from the Bedouin town of Hura in the Negev who served four years in prison for plotting to join the Islamic State. He was released in 2019.
Abu al-Qi’an was an elementary school teacher when he was indicted in 2015 for his affiliation with Islamic State and for attempting to recruit people to the jihadist group.
He admitted while in custody to having established a secret group that would hold clandestine meetings related to the Islamic State, and to planning to leave Israel on the pretext of a pilgrimage to Mecca, but with the true goal of joining terrorist fighters in Syria.
Channel 12 reported that in the 2015 case, during Abu al-Qi’an’s sentencing, the prosecution said, “Criminals like the defendant are a ticking time bomb, and it’s impossible to know when the countdown will begin.”
“The State of Israel is a country plagued by terror, and the security damage is made much more severe when it’s caused by Israeli citizens,” the prosecution said. Most terror attacks in Israel are carried out by Palestinians, not Israeli Arabs like Abu al-Qian.
The judge in the case, Yoel Eden, considered Abu al-Qi’an’s crimes to be severe, but gave him a relatively light sentence because he believed the defendant was no longer a threat, the Channel 12 report reported. The prosecution asked that Abu al-Qi’an be sentenced to five years imprisonment, but the judge sentenced him to four years.
Explaining the decision, the judge said, “The defendant expressed remorse and said he knows he was wrong and he will not repeat what he did.”
“In light of what he said, and in particular due to his lack of a criminal record, his acceptance of responsibility and his sincere remorse, the punishment will be at the lower end of the threshold,” the judge said, according to Channel 12.
Following Tuesday’s attack, security officials were concerned it would prompt so-called “copycat” attacks, leading to a widespread escalation. Security forces were already bracing for a feared rise in violence toward the start of Ramadan next month.
Israel’s security establishment fears copycat attacks could occur inside Israel, not only in the West Bank, the Kan public broadcaster reported.
Security officials fear an outbreak of violence similar to the “terror wave” of 2016 that saw near-daily lone wolf attacks, mostly stabbings and car rammings, the report said.
The Shin Bet internal security agency is collecting intelligence on Israeli citizens in the Bedouin community who are suspected as possible terrorists. The defense establishment has in recent years seen an increase in Bedouin involvement in terror activities, Kan reported.
Security officials are treating Tuesday’s killings as an Islamic State attack, although the group has not claimed responsibility and police said Abu al-Qi’an likely acted alone.
At a Tuesday situational assessment, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett asked Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees police, and Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai to be vigilant for further possible attacks.
Bennett said security forces would track down any accomplices. He praised the quick action of armed civilians who shot the terrorist, preventing anyone else from being harmed.
He said security forces were at “maximum alert.”
Palestinian Authority officials in a message to Israeli officials expressed sorrow over the killings and said they saw the incident as a severe and painful terror attack, Kan reported.
The Palestinian Authority has not issued a public statement condemning the attack. Palestinian officials are worried further attacks could cause Israel to consider tightening restrictions around the upcoming Ramadan holiday, the report said.
Abu al-Qi’an was indicted in 2015 with two other teachers and several others for supporting Islamic State, and also gave sermons to members of the community — including minors — promoting the jihadist group and asserting that the extremists did not veer from Islam.
It was not immediately clear what Abu al-Qi’an had been doing since his release from prison in 2019.
Tuesday’s stabbing attack was praised by both the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups. Neither claimed him as a member.
The rampage was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians since June 2016, when two terrorists opened fire at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market, killing four people and wounding 16.
Tuesday’s killings came amid a string of attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Tensions have risen after nine Palestinians were killed in violent confrontations with Israeli troops in recent weeks, including in gun battles with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank during raids, as well as during attempted attacks.
Southern Israel has also seen high tensions in recent months. In January, violent mass protests broke out following a Jewish National Fund tree-planting program in the region, seen by Bedouin communities as a government effort to expel them from their unrecognized hamlets.
Jewish residents of the south have pushed police to crack down on widespread crime in the south, and protested against police after Tuesday’s attack.
The four people killed in the attack on Tuesday were named as Doris Yahbas, 49, a mother of three, Laura Yitzhak, 43, also a mother of three, Rabbi Moshe Kravitzky, 48, a father of four, and Menahem Yehezkel, 67, a brother to four. Two others were wounded.
Abu al-Qian was confronted by an armed bus driver during the terror spree, 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 Israeli civilian. First responders reported that the stabber died from the gunshot wounds.