A woman who was accompanying an unarmed, autistic East Jerusalem man to his special needs institution said Sunday she repeatedly told police he was “disabled,” before they opened fire and killed him.
Iyad Halak, 32, was shot in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday, with police saying they thought he was holding a gun. However, Halak was unarmed — his father said he was holding his phone — and had apparently not understood officers’ orders to halt as he passed near the Lion’s Gate. He reportedly fled on foot and hid in a garbage room, where he was shot dead by Border Police.
Warda Abu Hadid, Halak’s caregiver, told Channel 13 that as police confronted him, she tried to tell them he was autistic and did not understand them.
“He’s disabled, disabled,” she said she repeatedly shouted in Hebrew to the officers. “Wait a moment, take his ID card, check his ID,” she recalled saying.
“Suddenly they fired three bullets at him, in front of my eyes,” she said. “I shouted, ‘Don’t shoot him.’ They didn’t listen, they didn’t want to hear.”
She said that he fell on the ground behind her, begging for help, before getting up and running off to the garbage room where he was eventually killed.
She said that after shooting Halak, the border police pointed their guns at her.
“They came up to me, pressed their guns against me and said, ‘Give us the pistol he gave you’. I said to them, ‘He didn’t give me any pistol, these are his mask and gloves,’ but they didn’t listen.”
Israel Radio reported that Abu Hadid had given testimony to police investigators and was expected to be questioned again.
The two officers were questioned under caution on Saturday. One officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions.
Investigators were looking into whether Halak was shot only after taking refuge in the garbage room, and not during the foot chase. Witnesses said there were at least seven shots fired in his direction.
Police officials noted that the area has been the scene of several terrorist attacks.
During a probe by the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department, two officers said they saw what appeared to them to be someone hiding and acting in a suspicions manner about 60 meters from them, Channel 12 news reported.
Both officers said they thought he was holding a blunt object. They called on him to stop but he ran away. The officers reported over their radio network that they had encountered “a terrorist with a firearm” and gave chase. Two paramilitary Border Police officers joined the pursuit and the more senior of the two fired a shot at Halak that missed, the report said.
Halak then sought refuge in the direction of a garbage room located at the end of an alley. Both border police officers said they heard a woman shouting something but the more junior of the two fired at Halak again, hitting him in the leg, which caused him to fall over. At that point, said the senior police officer, he shouted “Cease fire!” but his companion, who thought he saw Halak reaching to pull something from his pants, fired two more shots, killing him, Channel 12 reported.
PIID investigators intend to question both men further and are considering arranging for each of them to separately carry out a reconstruction of events.
Channel 12 quoted an attorney for one of the border officers who fired the shots, saying the incident was a “tragedy” but claiming her client had acted according to procedure.
Shortly after the shooting, police raided the family home looking for evidence. Halak’s sister told Channel 12 that officers beat her.
“My legs still hurt me,” she said. “They hit me on the back, my hands and the head.”
Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institute in the Old City where he studied. His father, Kheiri Hayak, told the Kan public broadcaster he believed his son was holding his cellphone when he was first spotted by the police.
Amir Ohana, the new public security minister who oversees police, expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. But he said it was early to “pass sentence” on the police officers involved, noting that they “are required to make fateful decisions in seconds in an area that has been inundated with terror attacks, and in which there is a constant danger to their lives.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday also expressed sorrow for the shooting.
“We are sorry about the incident in which Iyad Halak was shot to death and we share the family’s grief,” Gantz told the cabinet meeting. “I am sure this matter will be investigated quickly and conclusions will be reached.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who chaired the meeting, did not comment on the killing.