A reservist soldier suspected of killing a man he had apparently mistaken for a terrorist during a shooting attack in Jerusalem last week was arrested Monday by Military Police, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Staff Sgt. (res.) Aviad Frija was one of two off-duty troops who responded to a terror attack at a Jerusalem bus stop on Thursday, shooting at the two assailants but also at Yuval Castleman, an armed civilian who had also opened fire first at the terrorists.
Frija, who opened fire at Castleman after he had put his gun down and was holding his hands in the air, was questioned under caution on Sunday, and had his weapon taken away.
The IDF said his detention was a “preliminary arrest” and his interrogation would continue on Monday.
Frija was arrested after interrogators found discrepancies between his initial testimony and the account he provided in the Military Police questioning, as well as findings from the scene of the shooting.
The second soldier involved in the incident, who opened fire and was injured, was also questioned under caution on Sunday. Both soldiers were on a break from fighting in the Gaza Strip, and were heading back to the front line when the attack occured.
“The IDF expresses sorrow for the death of the late Yuval Doron Castleman, who acted with courage and heroism, and engaged and eliminated terrorists in the attack in Jerusalem,” the military said in a statement on Sunday evening.
Three other people were killed and five were injured 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 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.”
אזהרת צפייה! ????תמונה מצמררת! ובלעדית: עו״ד יובל קסטלמן זורק ארנק כדי שיבדקו שהוא יהודי, אבל זה לא עזר לו, הגיבור שנטרל את המחבלים, נורה למוות למרות שניסה לאותת שהוא יהודי???? pic.twitter.com/wnWt9sqruo
— Yossi Eli יוסי אלי (@Yossi_eli) December 3, 2023
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.”
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.”
Surveillance camera footage shows the shooting attack at the entrance to Jerusalem this morning. Two people were killed, and at least seven others were hurt. Two off-duty soldiers and an armed civilian shot the terrorists dead. pic.twitter.com/CwucVb5IV7
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) November 30, 2023
“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.
“From where the soldier stood, from the sights he saw and the sounds he heard, the soldier was wholeheartedly convinced that he was firing at a terrorist who still posed a life-threatening danger to him and everyone around him. He had no intention of making a ‘confirmed kill’ and did not act in that way,” the statement said.
“Immediately after he saw that the person was hit and was lying [on the ground], he stopped shooting. After hearing the testimony of the soldier, we do not doubt that under these extremely unusual circumstances, the Military Advocate General will also reach the clear conclusion, that with all the heavy sorrow for the terrible outcome, this is a tragic mistake that does not justify taking criminal measures against the soldier,” the lawyers added.
Following the Military Police investigation, the IDF will decide if criminal charges can 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.
President Isaac Herzog paid a condolence call to Castleman’s family on Monday.
“First of all, I am here to console. I cannot change reality, I am here to express my condolences on behalf of an entire nation,” Herzog told Castleman’s relatives, including his father, Moshe.
“I am here not just as an individual but as the president of the State of Israel, to ask forgiveness and to express enormous appreciation to an Israeli hero who did a huge and brave thing.”
“He got out of his car because that is how he was raised, because he always did so, in order to save brothers and sisters he didn’t know, and paid with his life in a horrible and disgraceful way, in my eyes,” Herzog added.
The president said the incident must be fully investigated, and the entire approach to weapons and open-fire regulations should be discussed: “We must not be afraid to talk about it, to put it on the table.”
Earlier this week, Yuval’s father said that the soldier responsible “carried out an execution,” and demanded a thorough investigation.
Yuval “did everything he needed to do so they could identify him. He went down on his knees, opened his jacket to show he didn’t have any explosives on him, yelled at them, ‘Don’t shoot, I’m Jewish, I’m Israeli,’ and they continued to shoot him,” he told Army Radio, adding that Yuval was shot in the jaw and chin, which would have impeded his ability to call for aid.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Moshe Castleman on Sunday, after he was criticized for saying the previous evening, “The reality of armed civilians is that many times it saves lives and prevents a big disaster. In the current situation, the policy should be continued.
“We may pay a price for it, that’s life.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.