Foreign journalists in Israel are rejecting a police claim that the Palestinian man who stabbed a Border Police officer near the West Bank city of Ramallah on Friday had been pretending to be a reporter in the moments before the attack, which allowed him to get closer to Israeli troops unnoticed.
In a statement issued Monday, the Foreign Press Association said 29-year-old Mohammed Aqal “did not identify himself as a journalist, was not dressed in the protective gear of nearby journalists, did not speak to the journalists and did not have any equipment that would mark him as a journalist.”
On Sunday, police released photos of Aqal standing among journalists and photographers moments before the attack, which it said allowed him to get closer to Israeli troops unnoticed.
“The terrorist used the media as a cover to prepare for the attack and ran toward the officers from where the press was gathered,” a police spokesperson said.
The FPA said it rejects “attempts by police to link this act of violence with the presence of accredited journalists doing their work,” and condemns “disguis[ing] oneself as a journalist or exploit the presence of legitimate journalists to carry out a violent act.”
In the attack, Aqal, who was wearing what appeared to be a suicide bomb belt, stabbed the border guard twice in the upper body, moderately wounding him.
Aqal then tried to flee, but was shot three times by officers on the scene after they noticed his apparent suicide bomb belt, fearing he would detonate it, police said. The belt was made up of several objects covered in tape, connected with wires. It was later found to not contain actual explosives.
After he was shot, Aqal was taken from the scene by Palestinian medics, while still wearing the apparent suicide bomb vest. He was later pronounced dead.
In a statement, police warned that terrorists pretending to be members of the press represented a threat to real journalists, but said that there will be no immediate changes to press access to West Bank protests.
“The Israel Police and Border Police will continue to operate in all areas and at the same time will continue to let the foreign media cover events, despite the threat caused by Palestinian terrorists,” the police said.
The police statement noted that this was not the first time that an assailant has pretended to be a journalist in order to carry out an attack.
In October 2015, a Palestinian man wearing a yellow vest and a black T-shirt emblazoned with the word “PRESS” stabbed an IDF soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron, moderately wounding him.
Friday’s stabbing took place in the midst of a violent protest against US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last Wednesday.
Following noontime prayers, riots were reported in Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, Qalqilya and Nablus. Demonstrators burned tires and threw rocks at Israeli troops, who fired back at them with tear gas and rubber bullets.
According to the Israeli army, some 2,500 Palestinians took part in protests in the West Bank over the weekend, while another 3,500 demonstrated violently along the security fence surrounding the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group.