ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Officer on trial for slaying Palestinian with autism: ‘I feared a killing spree’

Border cop tells Jerusalem District Court he believed at the time of the incident that Iyad Halak was armed and intent on carrying out a deadly attack in Jerusalem’s Old City

A Border Police officer accused of unlawfully killing a disabled Palestinian man in 2020 stands trial, February 28, 2023. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A Border Police officer accused of unlawfully killing a disabled Palestinian man in 2020 stands trial, February 28, 2023. (Video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The police officer who shot dead Iyad Halak, a Palestinian with autism, in May 2020 testified in a Jerusalem court on Tuesday during his trial that he thought the victim was going to carry out “a killing spree.”

The 21-year-old border guard is accused of reckless manslaughter. He has not been publicly named and attended the Jerusalem District Court with a mask on to protect his identity.

Halak, 32, was shot and killed while heading to a special education school. After a policeman mistook a phone in his hands for a gun in the tense and charged Old City, two officers chased him through the streets. They cornered him in a garbage room and an officer fired twice, killing Halak. Prosecutors say the second shot was fired as Halak lay helpless on the floor and posed no danger.

According to the indictment filed against the officer, after shooting Halak in the lower abdomen officers asked the injured Halak about a gun they believed he may have been carrying.

Halak “got up slightly, pointed at the woman he knew and murmured something,” the indictment said, referring to Halak’s caregiver, who was screaming at the security forces not to shoot the fleeing man.

The officers then directed the question at the caregiver. “What gun?” she replied.

While this exchange was taking place, the same police officer allegedly shot and killed Halak without any apparent justification, prosecutors said.

On Tuesday the accused officer recounted the day’s events.

“We had a briefing at 5 a.m. where we were given warnings and alerts. It was during Ramadan and we were on high alert. They told us that danger could come from unexpected places.”

The officer said as he stood with his commander near Jerusalem’s Old City, he heard calls on his radio of “terrorist!” followed by two police officers yelling nearby.

“I was sure there was going to be a killing spree. A terrorist, from my perspective, means a killing spree — he is killing people now and any second [another] person could be killed,” he said.

Beginning their pursuit of the Palestinian man, the accused said “we understood that there was a terrorist. The commander yelled at him to stop, but [Halak] didn’t listen. At that point, my commander fired and I heard a woman screaming.”

Parents of Iyad Halak, a 32-year-old special needs student who was killed in the Old City of Jerusalem, seen arriving to a court hearing of the police officer accused of shooting and killing Halak, at the District Court in Jerusalem, January 23, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Claiming he thought the screaming woman’s life was in danger, the suspect chased Halak into a garbage room, where he shot him. Seeing Halak move, he fired again, he told the court.

“These were a few seconds that felt like an eternity. It’s such a quick event, I didn’t have time to break it all down. I wanted to save that woman,” he recounted, apparently referring to Halak’s caregiver.

The parents of Iyad Halak, an Palestinian man with autism who was fatally shot by Israeli police, Khiri, right, and mother Rana, talk during an interview in Jerusalem, June 3, 2020. (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

In the courtroom, the accused told the prosecution that because the officers were running at high speed, they were unable to see whether Halek was carrying a weapon.

The officer said: “When they told me that he had special needs I was in shock. In real-time what I knew was that it was a terrorist. During the interrogation I was confused and under pressure — [the investigators] gave me the feeling that I was a criminal.”

The officer, if convicted, faces up to 12 years in prison.

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