First arson indictment for wave of fires handed down

Ali Mahajnar, 24, of Umm al-Fahm accused of deliberately starting 3 fires in hometown; says incompetent municipality motivated him

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Israeli firefighters work to extinguish a flame in a home in Haifa, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli firefighters work to extinguish a flame in a home in Haifa, Thursday, Nov. 24, 2016. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The Haifa Magistrate Court on Thursday indicted an Umm al-Fahm resident for deliberately starting several fires in his hometown last week as hundreds of devastating wildfires swept across the country.

According to the indictment, Ali Mahajnar, 24, started three fires near residential areas in the Al-Dahar neighborhood of the northern city.

Mahajnar’s fires — started several hundred meters from each other — burned vegetation and wooded areas before firefighters evacuated residential buildings and put out the blazes.

The indictment noted that most local residents were home when Mahajnar started the early morning fires.

Mahajnar admitted to the arson to police and expressed remorse for his actions, according to the court document.

Despite promises by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other politicians to prosecute those who deliberately started fires as terrorists, state prosecutors only indicted Mahajnar on arson charges.

During a Monday court hearing, Mahajnar said local authorities motivated him to start the fires.

“I’m the victim of the Umm al-Fahm Municipality that doesn’t treat us like it should,” he said according to Channel 2. “[The municipality] don’t clean the streets.”

His lawyer on Monday said that Mahajnar has no criminal record, and stressed he was not affiliated with any outside organization.

“I don’t know how to explain his actions,” he told the TV station.

In the wake of the wildfires that authorities estimate burned some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) of land in Israel and the West Bank, a number of politicians asserted that some of the blazes were deliberately set in nationalistically motivated attacks.

Last week, Netanyahu declared from within Haifa that the wildfires in the city which destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands to flee, were “arson terror.”

He threatened to strip the residence status of arsonists, while Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan called for demolishing their homes, as is sometimes done to Palestinians accused of terrorism against Israelis.

As of Tuesday, police had arrested at least 35 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson, but have not indicated how many were suspected of setting fires and how many of inciting others to do so.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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