The Palestinian terrorist who gunned down five people in a shooting attack in the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak on Tuesday night previously served 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to attempting to plan a suicide bombing.
Diaa Hamarsheh, a 27-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Ya’abad near Jenin, killed four civilians before he died in a shootout with a police officer, who was his fifth victim.
Hamarsheh had sought to commit a suicide attack against Israelis as early as 2011, when he was 16 years old. According to the indictment, Hamarsheh went on social media and asked members of the Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror groups to help him obtain a suicide vest.
Israeli military prosecutors contended that he was repeatedly defrauded by an Islamic Jihad operative whom he repeatedly handed large sums of money — only to never receive the suicide belt he paid for. Both Hamarsheh and the Islamic Jihad member were later arrested by Israeli forces.
Hamarsheh signed a plea bargain that saw him serve a significantly reduced sentence. Israeli prosecutors cited his youth and inexperience as key considerations in offering the plea bargain, calling him “a 16-year-old minor when he committed the crime, without a criminal background and who chose to confess.”
“I believe the accused comes from a law-abiding family and that after he is released from prison, his family and his father will work to rehabilitate and supervise him,” wrote Israeli military judge Samzan Shagog, according to court filings.
In a sentencing hearing in July 2014, Hamarsheh’s father Ahmad told the court that his son had been “manipulated as a minor.”
“I am sure that when he experienced the arrest and prison he came to his senses and learned his lesson,” Ahmad said at the time.
Despite his son’s track record, Ahmad on Wednesday expressed surprise at his decision to attack Israelis. According to Ahmad, he met his son for lunch several hours before the attack.
“My son was right there, between my arms, and I lost him in a second. I’m going to carry this sadness for the rest of my life. If there was even a shadow of doubt in my mind that he was going to do this, I would have stood in his way. I can’t accept that he died like this,” Ahmad Hamarsheh told The Times of Israel.
The shooting was the third deadly attack inside Israel in eight days. Hamarsheh’s victims were two Bnei Brak fathers, two Ukrainian workers and a Christian Arab policeman, Amir Khoury. Khoury and a second police officer killed Hamarsheh; Khoury was fatally wounded in the firefight.
Eleven Israelis have lost their lives so far in what Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday night called “a wave of murderous Arab terrorism.”
Israeli soldiers raided Hamarsheh’s hometown of Ya’abad, near Jenin, to arrest suspected accomplices, among them the attacker’s brother, after the attack. Bennett said Wednesday that the terrorist’s home would be demolished, as part of an effort to deter future attackers.
After his release from prison, Hamarsheh devoted himself to working in the family business, his father said. The Hamarsheh family, like many in Ya’abad, work in the tobacco industry; the father also owns a cell phone store.
“After his release, he tried to continue his life and his work and so on,” his father said.
Ahmad Hamarsheh said he opposed killing innocent civilians. But he also said that he wouldn’t call his deceased son a terrorist.
“Would anyone call the soldiers who kill our children and shot at us terrorists?” Ahmad Hamarsheh asked rhetorically. “As soon as they do so, I’ll get up the next morning and call my son a terrorist.”
The Bnei Brak terror attack significantly raised tensions between Israel and the Palestinians on the eve of the Ramadan holy month. Israeli and Arab leaders have been holding meetings in Israel and the region in an attempt to prevent further escalation.
Few details of the investigation in Hamarsheh’s attack have been publicly released. But Israeli military reporters, who regularly receive unsourced background briefings from security officials, announced on Wednesday night that Hamarsheh had driven through a gap in the security fence between Israel and the West Bank in a stolen car.
The terrorist who killed four Israelis last week in Beersheba was also a former terror convict who served a relatively light sentence.
Mohammad Ghaleb Abu al-Qi’an, 34, was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 for affiliation with Islamic State and for attempting to recruit people to the jihadist group.