Court deems Duma attack accomplice a terror group member

Court deems Duma attack accomplice a terror group member

Because suspect was a minor at time of attack that killed 3 members of Dawabsha family, law requires him to undergo Welfare Ministry probation assessment before he can be convicted

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three died when the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, by suspected Jewish extremists, on July 31, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Saad and Riham Dawabsha, with baby Ali. All three died when the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, by suspected Jewish extremists, on July 31, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

The Lod District Court on Thursday ruled that the accomplice in the Duma terror attack is a member of a terror organization, tacking the additional charge onto the rap sheet of the now-19-year-old who planned the 2015 firebombing that killed three members of a Palestinian family.

The teen, whose name is barred from publication as he was a minor at the time of the attack, reached a plea agreement with the State Prosecutor’s Office last May in which he admitted to having planned the torching of the Dawabsha home. The indictment against him was amended to make no mention of toddler Ali Saad Dawabsha and his parents, Riham and Saad, who were killed in the attack.

Approved by a Lod District Court judge, that agreement saw the teenager confess to conspiring to commit a crime motivated by racism — the same count for which he was charged in January 2016. The indictment was corrected to specify the crime as arson, but not murder, as was originally the case.

However, the sides were unable to reach an agreement regarding the charge of membership in a terror organization and decided to leave the matter for the court to decide. A panel of judges led by Ruth Lorch in July had recommended dropping the offense, writing that proving the accused was a member of an organized group based on “ramblings” was a “stretch.” Nonetheless, the prosecution notified the court that it would continue to pursue the charge after having deemed the evidence against the teen substantial enough.

In her Thursday ruling, Lorch appeared to have changed her mind, writing, “The existence of the terrorist organization and his affiliation to it is demonstrated from the words and actions of the accused.”

Lorch pointed out that during his interrogation, the teen divulged that “the ultimate goal is the establishment of a state that will run in the light of Torah authority… There is no room at all for the Gentiles… and if they do not leave then they should be killed.”

Despite the court’s ruling, the law requires the accused to undergo an assessment by probation officers from the Welfare Ministry before he can be convicted of such a charge. A date for a final ruling to be handed down has yet to be scheduled.

A Palestinian police member inspects the damage inside a burned-out house belonging to a key witness to an arson attack last year by Jewish extremists that killed a Palestinian family, in the West Bank village of Duma, after fire broke out in the home in the early hours of March 20, 2016. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

The teen’s attorney, Adi Keidar from the Honenu legal aid organization, told reporters that he planned to appeal Thursday’s ruling, saying it did not jibe with what the judges had recommended in July. “The court then said that [the prosecution] didn’t have a case. That’s why this is surprising.”

For its part, the State Prosecutor’s Office issued a statement lauding the ruling, saying that “the violent actions carried out by the defendant and others within the terrorist organization were intended to convey a deterrent message and to sow terror and fear among the Arab population.”

“It was determined that the defendant and others acted with a racist and ideological motive with the intention of bringing about change in government policy so the state would be governed by Torah laws,” the prosecution added.

In addition to planning the Duma firebombing, the May plea agreement saw the far-right activist admit to having carried out three other hate crimes targeting Palestinians: torching a garage next to a residence in the northern West Bank village of Aqraba, torching a taxi in the nearby town of Yasuf, and slashing tires on cars in the East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa.

An official for the prosecution told The Times of Israel at the time that the state agreed to the plea arrangement because the teenager was not present during the Duma attack itself, for which another alleged Israeli extremist, Amiram Ben-Uliel, stands accused. No plea bargain was offered to Ben-Uliel, the primary suspect in the Duma attack.

“For an unknown reason, the accused did not succeed in [making it to] the planned meeting between the defendant and the other [defendant] that night,” the official quoted the indictment as stating.

The State Prosecutor’s Office requested that the suspect be sentenced to five and a half years of actual jail time. Deducted from the sentence would be the time the teenager has already spent behind bars — about two and a half years.

A sentencing hearing has been set for January 19.

Nasr Dawabsha, who has helped raise the attack’s lone survivor, Ahmad, told The Times of Israel Thursday, “We are calling for the maximum punishment to be handed down to him.

Amiram Ben-Uliel, who was indicted January 3, 2016, for murder in the killing of the Dawabsha family in Duma (courtesy)

Last July, the Lod District Court released the defendant to house arrest, less than two months after it threw out several of his confessions because they were extracted under extreme duress by interrogators of the Shin Bet security service.

The court also quashed a number of confessions given by Ben-Uliel, who is charged with having hurled the lethal firebomb at the Dawabsha home. However, the court ruled that the remaining admissions of guilt, which were not given under duress, could be used in the case against him.

The case against Ben-Uliel has continued but in the last hearing on the matter in June, the suspect waived his right to testify in court, saying through a statement read by his attorney that he would not cooperate with the “injustice” of the proceedings.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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