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Family of Eritrean man killed by inflamed mob sues for millions

Relatives of Haftom Zarhum claim police and security guards’ negligence led to his death in wake of Beersheba terror attack

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Security camera footage showing an Eritrean man being shot in the Beersheba central bus station on October 18, 2015, after he was thought to be a terrorist. (screen capture: Channel 2)
Security camera footage showing an Eritrean man being shot in the Beersheba central bus station on October 18, 2015, after he was thought to be a terrorist. (screen capture: Channel 2)

The family of an Eritrean asylum seeker who was shot by a security guard and then beaten by an angry mob after he was mistaken for a terrorist has sued the state for damages, claiming negligence and failure to follow proper procedure caused his death.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday at the Beersheba District Court, demanded NIS 3 million ($780,000) on behalf of relatives of Haftom Zarhum. The family is also demanding that the National Insurance Agency recognize Zahrum as a victim of terror, entitling his family to compensation.

Zarhum, 29, was shot by a security guard in the minutes after a terror attack at the Beersheba bus station on October 18, 2015, that left an Israeli soldier dead and 11 people wounded. As he lay bleeding and helpless on the ground, a crowd of angry passersby beat him, some of them delivering powerful blows to his head and pummeling him with a metal bench. He died hours later in a hospital, and an autopsy ruled that the primary cause of death was the gunshot wounds.

Attorney Limor Lugasi, who is representing the family, told Israel Radio on Wednesday that police and the security company tasked with protecting the Beersheba bus station were responsible for what happened to Zarhum.

“There was a complete deviation from procedure here,” Lugasi said and claimed that after Zarhum had been shot and the mob began to attack him, there were police officers, border police, and security guards at the scene who stood by and watched without intervening.

The attack was carried out by Muhanad Alukabi, 21, from an unrecognized Bedouin village in the Negev, who first opened fire with a pistol, killing IDF soldier Omri Levi. He then took Levi’s service rifle and used it to wound 11 others. He was killed in a shootout with police after holing up in a bathroom.

During the ensuing confusion, as crowds ran for cover, a security guard mistook Zarhum for a terrorist and shot him.

“You have a man who posed no threat to life, that is to say he was not holding any object that could have been a danger to those around him. All he had was dark skin,” Lugasi said. “So everyone who has dark skin and is in the area of a terror attack — we’ll lynch them? We’ll shoot them straightaway? And if you shoot someone because you think there is a threat, then there is a procedure for how to fire. You shoot at his legs. There are guidelines for how to neutralize a terrorist.”

Haftom Zarhum, 29, died of his wounds on October 19, 2015, a few hours after he was shot and beaten by a mob that mistook him for an assailant in the terror attack in Beersheba on October 18, 2015. (Courtesy)
Haftom Zarhum, 29, died of his wounds on October 19, 2015, a few hours after he was shot and beaten by a mob that mistook him for an assailant in the terror attack in Beersheba on October 18, 2015.

The lawsuit was filed against the police and the security company, which, she argued, was negligent in letting the terrorist into the bus station, in its handling of the attack once it began, and in — along with police — not preventing the beating of Zarhum by the angry mob.

The National Insurance Agency has already rejected recognizing Zarhum as a victim of terror because the Eritrean had entered the country illegally, Israel Radio reported. Lugasi has appealed to the attorney general for an opinion on the matter and will decide how to proceed after receiving that ruling, she said.

The attack on Zarhum was met with widespread outrage in Israel when graphic video emerged showing the severity of the beating he received. CCTV footage showed a number of people repeatedly kicking him in the head as one man tried to protect him. One man was seen holding a knife, while curses and shouts of “Kill him!” could be heard from the crowd.

In January four Israeli men were indicted — an IDF soldier, a prison guard, and two civilians — for the brutal beating of Zarhum. The four maintain that they mistook him for the terrorist and that their actions were justified.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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