Judges from the Beersheba District Court slammed the interrogation methods of Israel’s Shin Bet security service, saying the agency may have forced a confession out of an innocent man who had been falsely identified as a terror suspect.
In 2015, Khalil Nimri, 22, was arrested by police in Eilat after a hotel clerk identified him as a man who had asked suspicious questions about the hotel, including its Orthodox Jewish guests.
A few days later, the clerk realized that Ashraf Salaima, 25, was the person who had asked the suspicious questions and not Nimri. Salaima was arrested, but Nimri had already admitted to planning a hotel bombing and was kept in custody.
The court said a false confession may have been forced out of Nimri.
The interrogator “taught the defendant that he must lie in order to satisfy the Shin Bet,” the judges wrote.
“The interrogation methods of the Shin Bet are not known to us. We have only been provided with little and partial information. We do not know what is known to the Shin Bet on the intelligence level,” the judges wrote in a decision published on Monday.
“One can presume that when the Shin Bet has the appropriate intelligence, it knows how to carry out a preventative investigation in an effective manner. However, in this case, it appears that according to the evidence before us there is real concern that the defendant was arrested and detained for two years through no fault of his own,” the judges said.
Nimri believed his family was being threatened by the Shin Bet during his interrogation, and he would remain in custody until he confessed.
Nimri was acquitted by the court early in November, more than a month before the judges would publish their decision. He was released as quickly as possible, the Hebrew daily Haaretz at the time reported, because the judges believed he had spent too long behind bars without sufficient reason.
The judges found that the Shin Bet had not followed standard procedure to make sure the suspect was properly identified. The agency did not check security tapes from the hotel, did not check Nimri’s alibi and did not conduct an identification lineup.
“Unfortunately, the Shin Bet did not use the police’s usual interrogation procedures and led the defendant to admit that he had visited the hotel,” the judges wrote.
According to an indictment filed against Nimri and Salaima in December 2015, the two were charged with conspiracy and aiding an enemy in wartime.
Nimri and Salaima, both East Jerusalemites, worked together at a different hotel in Eilat.
Nimri, according to the indictment, said he “wanted to avenge the death of his childhood friend killed in October [while carrying out a] stabbing attack in Jerusalem.”
Criminal proceedings have continued for Salaima, who confessed to planning the attack, but also retracted the confession a number of times.
The indictment had indicated that Nimri first offered to carry out a stabbing attack and murder a religious Jew, but Salaima convinced him that they would likely get caught. Salaima suggested instead that the two plant a bomb in a hotel in Eilat, the indictment said.
A source familiar with the investigation told Haaretz, “Shin Bet investigations are done according to the law and court rulings. They are subject to close supervision by the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the courts at different levels, including the Supreme Court.”
“Every interrogation, including this case, is carried out with internal and external oversight throughout the proceedings,” he added.
Nimri’s lawyer, Esther Bar Tzion, told Haaretz, “There are instances when even the best fall into the trap of narrow vision and thinking, and without malice or negligence, ignore serious problems with the investigative material.”