Family says they agreed to procedure, hoping for justice

IDF exhumes body of hero civilian shot dead by reservist; autopsy aims to aid probe

Yuval Castleman was killed by Staff Sgt. (res.) Aviad Frija after he stopped deadly terror attack at Jerusalem bus stop; Frija says he mistook Castleman for a terrorist

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Aviad Frija (left) at a military courtroom, Dec. 5, 2023 (Walla screenshot); Yuval Castleman. (Courtesy)
Aviad Frija (left) at a military courtroom, Dec. 5, 2023 (Walla screenshot); Yuval Castleman. (Courtesy)

The military said Friday it had exhumed the body of Yuval Castleman, a civilian who was shot by an off-duty reserve soldier at the scene of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem last week and will carry out an autopsy amid the ongoing investigation into his death.

Castleman’s body was buried following the deadly incident without the procedure.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces said representatives of the Military Advocate General met Thursday with the family of Castleman to update them on the developments in the investigation.

It said the Military Police “worked to conduct additional tests with relevant professionals, from which new and relevant information emerged” related to the investigation of Castleman’s killing.

At the scene of the bus stop terror shooting, Staff Sgt. (res.) Aviad Frija, one of two off-duty troops who responded to the attack, opened fire on the two terrorists but also at Castleman, an armed civilian who stopped his car across the street, got out, and ran and killed the terrorists, ending the deadly attack.

Footage from the scene showed that Frija shot Castleman after the latter had put his gun down and was holding his hands in the air. He was questioned under caution on Sunday and arrested the next day, then released to house arrest on Wednesday. He is suspected of having committed reckless homicide.

The IDF said the new information in the investigation led to the need for an autopsy to be carried out, adding that Castleman’s family agreed to allow his body to be exhumed for the examination.

“Upon receiving the position and examining all the relevant information, the Military Police’s Investigatory Unit and the Military Advocate General acted to open the grave to transfer the body to the Institute of Forensic Medicine (Abu Kabir) for an autopsy,” the IDF said, adding that the units requested, and received, a court order allowing the body to be exhumed.

A source with knowledge of the details of the probe told the Walla news site Friday that a previous CT scan suggested bullets may still be present in Castleman’s body.

“After the autopsy, we will be able to know for sure if these are bullets or parts of them. I cautiously assess that these are indeed bullets,” the source said.

In a statement, Castleman’s family said they agreed to the procedure with the hope that “justice will be served.”

The second soldier involved in the incident, who opened fire and was injured, was also questioned under caution on Sunday.

Yuval Castleman is fatally shot after preventing the continuation of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023 (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright law)

Three people were killed and five were injured by the terrorists in the attack. Castleman was driving on the other side of the street when the attack occurred; he stopped his car, crossed the road and rushed at the terrorists with his firearm and fired at them.

The soldiers, who arrived at the scene at around the same time, apparently mistook Castleman for a third assailant, and at least one, Frija, fired at him.

Graphic video from the scene showed Castleman throw away his gun, fall on his knees and raise his hands in the air while shouting, “Don’t shoot” as the soldiers approached him. He was then shot again.

According to additional details reported Sunday, Castleman also yelled at the soldiers until he collapsed, “Look at my ID, I am Jewish.”

Speaking about the incident, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that soldiers should not shoot at someone putting their hands up, and hailed Castleman’s “brave” action in eliminating the Hamas gunmen.

“This is truly heroism,” he said.

Speaking to the right-wing Channel 14 network shortly after the attack, Frija said that “someone shouted ‘terrorist.’ The soldier next to me and I were lying down on the floor and then we went around behind the [bus] station. We realized [the terrorists] were behind us.

“Slowly we looked for them, we walked crouched behind the station, and then when we passed the station we suddenly saw them and then shot them,” Frija said. “There was a terrorist there and we shot him.”

Asked by the network if he confirmed the terrorists had been killed, Frija said “Yes, we shot until they fell.”

File: Israeli emergency services at the scene of a terror shooting attack in at the entrance to Jerusalem, November 30, 2023 (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Frija’s lawyers, Col. (res,) Shlomi Tzipori and Col. (res.) Ran Cohen Rochberger, said in a statement to the media Monday that the videos showing the terror attack and fatal shooting “create a partial and false impression that does not reflect what was seen and heard from the direction of the soldier.

“The additional shooting carried out by the soldier and other people in the area toward the late Yuval must be examined according to all the circumstances and the situation that stood before the soldier’s eyes in real time,” the lawyers said.

Following the Military Police investigation, the IDF will decide if criminal charges should be brought against Frija. IDF protocols do not allow soldiers to shoot someone who raises their hands in the air, and officials say the soldier’s conduct during the incident was not what was expected of him based on the norms and values of the military.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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