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Suspected terrorist was in Israel illegally, had record

Border Police officers questioned amid fracas over shooting of Palestinian attacker

Officers undergo routine investigation after killing stabber in capital, having fired at him as he lay on the ground, a move that drew condemnation from Arab lawmakers

Israeli security forces at the scene of stabbing attack outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli security forces at the scene of stabbing attack outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The two Border Police officers who shot dead a Palestinian attacker in Jerusalem on Saturday were questioned by the Police Internal Investigations Department later in the day.

The procedure is routine for any shooting incident resulting in a fatality, but the incident, said by police to be a suspected terror attack, has come under greater scrutiny due to video from the scene showing the officers firing at the suspect several times as he was already lying on the ground.

The officers have said they feared he was still dangerous when they shot him, and they did not know what he was holding or concealing on his person.

The police said the questioning was routine procedure and was not meant to “cast doubt on the officers’ conduct.”

The two officers killed the suspected terrorist after he stabbed an ultra-Orthodox man in the neck, moderately to seriously wounding him, on a street near the capital’s Damascus Gate, then attempted to attack the officers. The suspect was in Israel illegally and had been arrested for incitement in 2019.

The shooting of the stabber as he lay on the ground drew protests from lawmakers in Arab Israeli parties. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, other leading politicians and police officials defended and praised their conduct.

Some critics compared the incident to IDF soldier Elor Azaria’s 2016 shooting of an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in Hebron, which resulted in Azaria being sent to prison.

But it was doubtful that the two cases were comparable: Azaria shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif after he had been subdued and was not considered a threat. In Saturday’s incident, the officers stopped firing at the assailant within some 20 seconds of the moment he lunged at them.

Video filmed by a passerby shows the officers firing two shots at the attacker while he is moving on the ground.

Police released video of the entire incident, showing that the officers did not immediately fire at the assailant, doing so only after he repeatedly lunged at them.

The assailant was seen crossing a street, then turning and repeatedly stabbing an ultra-Orthodox man behind him. He then ran at the responding officers, who shot him several times.

Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai held a call with the officers’ parents on Saturday night.

He called the officers “two heroes” and said they “acted in a determined, professional and speedy manner and thanks to them human life was saved tonight.”

Border Police chief Amir Cohen said, “We all watched the video and saw that your children are heroes and acted according to how we train them and expect them to act as the protectors of civilians.”

Channel 12 said investigators will question whether all the shots fired were justified, but that the first impressions were that the terrorist was still moving, the officers felt endangered, and were unable to discern whether he had explosives on him.

The network also said security forces would bolster deployment in the area, which has been the scene of many violent incidents and protests in the past.

Israeli politicians, including lawmakers from center-left parties and Bennett, said the officers had acted appropriately.

“They “acted very quickly and resolutely, as is expected of police officers, against a terrorist who tried to murder an Israeli civilian,” said Bennett. “I wish to convey to them my full backing. That is how our forces are expected to act and that is how they acted. We must not allow our capital to become a terror hotspot.”

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees the police, said, “A second or two after the first shooting, the police officers needed to decide whether the terrorist might activate a suicide bomb. When in doubt, there is no doubt.”

Unnamed sources in Border Police told Ynet that officers’ conduct was justified as an assailant on the ground could still activate a suicide vest and so was still a potential danger.

Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej of the left-wing Meretz party criticized the officers, saying, “Faced with attempted murder, assailants should be shot to save lives, not in order to take [the attackers’] lives when they no longer pose a threat.”

The Joint List’s MK Aida Touma-Suleiman said the policemen had executed the man “when he no longer posed a threat.”

Her colleague Ofer Cassif called the shooting “an extrajudicial execution,” adding: “Shooting an injured person lying on the ground when he is no longer a danger, regardless of his actions, is a war crime.”

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas’s office released a statement denouncing the shooting as an “assassination” and urging the international community “to immediately act to stop Israel’s crimes.”

The victim of the attack, Avraham Elimelich, 21, was stabbed in the neck and was in moderate to serious condition.

Avraham Elimelich, the victim of a stabbing attack in Jerusalem, speaks from the hospital, on December 4, 2021. (Screenshot)

Speaking from his hospital bed, he said, “I was coming back from prayers at the Western Wall. I passed Damascus Gate and crossed the street. I wasn’t paying attention and suddenly the terrorist was chasing me.

“He came to kill me, tried to stab me everywhere on my body. The soldier that got there separated us, and then the terrorist went to stab him, and they killed him.”

Muhammad Salima, a Palestinian shot dead after stabbing a Haredi man in Jerusalem on December 4, 2021 (Courtesy)

The attacker was identified as Muhammad Shaukat Muhammad Salima, a 25-year-old from the West Bank town of Salfit who was in Israel illegally.

Media reports said he had been arrested and served time in 2019 for incitement to violence and was not affiliated with the Hamas terror group or Fatah.

Ynet said a taxi driver from north of the Green Line in Israel had been detained on suspicion of driving the attacker to Jerusalem.

Palestinian rioting later developed at the scene, with police using stun grenades and other measures against the protesters.

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