The family of an Arab-Israeli who was shot dead Friday while attempting to stab a police officer in the Old City of Jerusalem said he struggled with mental health issues, and had not carried out the attack for nationalistic reasons.
Ahmed Muhammad Mahameed, 24, had spent significant time in the Sha’ar Menashe psychiatric medical center in northern Israel, according to his brother Nissim Mahameed. “He was sick and could not function,” Nissim told the Haaretz daily on Saturday.
Mahameed’s father said Ahmed had twice tried to take his own life.
“There was an incident once where we were sitting outside our house and we heard shouts from inside. He had taken pills and tried to commit suicide,” Muhammad Mahameed told the Walla news site.
Police said Mahameed — a resident of Umm al-Fahm in northern Israel — emerged from the direction of the Temple Mount on Friday afternoon and approached a group of policemen, pulling out a knife and attempting to stab one of them.
The officers scuffled with the assailant and one of them shot him, killing him.
The Mahameed family condemned the officer for being “light with his finger on the trigger.”
“They didn’t have to kill him,” said the assailant’s father, pointing to other instances where police managed to neutralize attackers by shooting at their legs instead of their upper bodies.
Mustafa Abu Megged, a friend of Mahameed’s, called his family a “normative” one that would never endorse such conduct.
“They could have neutralized him in another way. When it comes to Arabs, they [the police] are easy to pull the trigger,” Megged charged.
In addition, the Umm al-Fahm Municipality released a statement Saturday condemning police for what it called the “cold-blooded murder” of its resident.
“The city condemns the incomprehensible conduct, especially in light of the young man’s mental and health condition,” the statement read. It did not elaborate on how the officers at the scene would have been able to know the assailant’s state of mental well-being ahead of time.
Police said an initial probe of the incident had shown police fire was entirely justified.
“No one can expect policemen to know a terrorist who is attacking them with a knife is mentally ill,” a senior official said in response to the family’s claim.
Police believe Mahameed acted alone, and did not have any co-conspirators.
Officials also said the behavior of the policeman who was attacked will be reviewed, as he was assaulted while looking at his phone, in breach of precautionary instructions.
Jerusalem’s Old City, one of the most volatile flashpoints of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been relatively quiet for the past year. But stabbing attacks have continued elsewhere. Last month, a Palestinian terrorist climbed the fence of the Adam settlement in the West Bank and stabbed three people, killing one of them, Yotam Ovadia.