Israel nabs suspected Givat Assaf terrorist after nearly month-long manhunt

Asem Barghouti, believed to have carried out deadly shooting attack at outpost bus stop, is arrested in alleged accomplice’s home

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Asem (L) and Salih (R) Barghouti at a rally in Kobar after the former was released from Israeli prison in April 2018 (screenshot: Twitter)
Asem (L) and Salih (R) Barghouti at a rally in Kobar after the former was released from Israeli prison in April 2018 (screenshot: Twitter)

Israeli security forces early on Tuesday arrested a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a deadly terror attack in the central West Bank last month, ending a weeks-long manhunt.

Asem Barghouti is believed to have opened fire at a bus stop outside the Givat Assaf outpost near Ramallah on December 13, killing two soldiers stationed there and seriously injuring a third serviceman and a civilian woman.

Barghouti fled the scene after the attack, evading Israeli troops for almost a month before his capture in the village of Abu Shukheidim in the predawn hours of Tuesday morning, the Shin Bet security service said.

He was taken into custody “without a shot being fired,” police said.

According to the Shin Bet, Barghouti also took part in another shooting attack on December 9 with his brother, Salih, in which they injured seven Israelis, among them a seven-months pregnant woman, who was seriously wounded. The woman’s baby was delivered in an emergency operation, but died days later.

Salih Barghouti was shot dead on December 12 in Kobar as he attacked Israeli security forces in an attempt to evade arrest, the army said.

The Shin Bet said Asem Barghouti was “busy preparing to carry out additional terror attacks in recent days.”

A Kalashnikov assault rifle, several magazines full of ammunition and night-vision equipment were found and confiscated during the arrest, the security service said.

Barghouti was found hiding in the home of a suspected accomplice in the village of Abu Shukheidim, which is located next to his hometown of Kobar, the Shin Bet said.

He was arrested in a joint operation by the Shin Bet, the Israel Police’s elite Yamam counterterrorism unit and the Israel Defense Forces.

A photo composite shows Sgt. Yosef Cohen, left, and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef of the IDF’s Kfir Brigade. The two were killed on December 13, 2018, in a terrorist shooting attack outside the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank. (Israel Defense Forces)

The search effort “included the arrest of dozens of Hamas operatives and accomplices,” the Shin Bet said.

Barghouti will be interrogated by the Shin Bet, the security service said.

News of Barghouti’s arrest was lauded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I praise the Shin Bet, IDF and Yamam for capturing the depraved terrorist who committed the Givat Assaf terror attack and was part of the Ofra attack. The long arm of Israel will reach all those who harm our citizens, and the State of Israel will bring them to justice,” said Netanyahu, who also serves as defense and foreign minister.

In the 26 days since the terror attack, Israeli troops have arrested and questioned dozens of family members and associates of Barghouti, including his wife.

Asem, whose family has an extensive history in the Hamas terror group, was set free from an Israeli prison in April 2017 after serving an 11-year sentence.

“We had no doubt that we would reach Asem Barghouti and arrest him,” said the head of the Yamam unit, whose name is kept secret for security reasons.

Seven people were wounded in the drive-by shooting attack on a bus stop outside Ofra on December 9, which Israel says was committed by Asem and Salih Barghouti. Hamas later confirmed that Salih was behind the attack.

Shira and Amichai Ish-Ran, both injured last week when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire on Israelis near the settlement of Ofra, hold a press conference at the Shaare Zedek hospital in Jerusalem on December 16, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Shira Ish-Ran was critically injured in the shooting. Her baby — delivered in emergency surgery by doctors hours later — died after four days as a result of the attack. He was posthumously named Amiad Yisrael.

Shira and her husband Amichai, who sustained three gunshot wounds to the leg, have since been released from the hospital.

The day after Israeli forces shot and killed Salih, Asem allegedly shot dead the two soldiers near Givat Assaf — Sgt. Yosef Cohen and Staff Sgt. Yovel Mor Yosef — and seriously wounded two other people, soldier Netanel Felber and Shira Sabag, a civilian woman.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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