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Police officers cleared in deadly shooting of Palestinian stabber

Prosecutor accepts recommendations of internal affairs probe; top police officials welcome decision, praise officers’ courage during terrorist attack near Jerusalem’s Old City

Border Police chief Amir Cohen (R) and the two officers who shot an attacker (faces blurred) in an undated photo (Israel Police spokesperson)
Border Police chief Amir Cohen (R) and the two officers who shot an attacker (faces blurred) in an undated photo (Israel Police spokesperson)

The State Prosecutor’s Office said Thursday it had closed an investigation into two Border Police officers who shot dead a Palestinian assailant after he stabbed a Jewish civilian in a Jerusalem terror attack, saying there was legal justification for the shooting.

The officers were questioned after video of the Saturday incident showed them firing at Muhammad Salima once he was already lying on the ground.

Police video of the entire incident that was later released showed Salima stabbed one civilian and then also tried to attack the officers. The video showed that the officers did not immediately fire the fatal shot at the assailant as he lay on the ground, but did so only after he moved, apparently trying to get up.

State Prosecutor Amit Aisman on Thursday adopted the recommendations of the Justice Ministry’s internal investigations unit, and decided to close the probe into the two officers.

The State Prosecutor’s office said in a statement that the Police Internal Investigations Department (PIID) had “thoroughly, professionally and efficiently” investigated the officers’ actions.

“The Border Police officers’ explanations that they acted in self-defense were consistent with the rest of the investigation’s findings, including a video documenting the incident in its entirety,” the statement read.

“An examination of all the circumstances found that this was an incident that lasted only a few seconds, in circumstances where there was a real and tangible danger to the lives of the officers and civilians in the area,” the statement read.

“In view of this, including the terrorist’s determination to cause harm to people, it was found that there was a legal justification for the use of the weapon. Therefore, it was decided that the case [against the two officers] should be shelved,” prosecutors said.

The two officers, who have received significant backing from the prime minister, police chief, and other top officials, have said they feared the attacker was still dangerous when they shot him during the attack.

Border Police at the scene of a stabbing in Jerusalem, on December 4, 2021. (Video screenshot)

The pair were questioned by the PIID in the immediate aftermath of the incident, and their weapons were confiscated. But officials stressed that this was standard procedure in any fatal shootings, and did not indicate that the two were suspected of wrongdoing.

According to Channel 13 news, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and Border Police chief Amir Cohen intend to honor the pair for their actions with official citations.

Shabtai said Thursday that he welcomed the decision to close the case and that the full video “left no doubt about [the officers’] professionalism.” He added that the pair were heroes for taking action to save lives.

Cohen said that the officers had shown “determination and courage” that had saved the lives of many others. He said that the officers would continue to have the support of the unit.

The attack happened on Saturday near the Old City in Jerusalem. The assailant was seen crossing a street, then turning and repeatedly stabbing an ultra-Orthodox man behind him. He then ran at the responding officers.

The attacker was later identified as Salima, a 25-year-old from the West Bank town of Salfit who was in Israel illegally.

The victim of the attack, Avraham Elimelich, 21, was stabbed in the neck and was in moderate to serious condition.

Avraham Elimelich, who was wounded in a suspected terror stabbing outside Jerusalem’s Old City, is seen outside the emergency room at Shaare Zedek Medical Center, December 4, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Speaking from his hospital bed, he said: “I was coming back from prayers at the Western Wall. I passed Damascus Gate and crossed the street. I wasn’t paying attention and suddenly the terrorist was chasing me.

“He came to kill me, tried to stab me everywhere on my body. The soldier that got there separated us, and then the terrorist went to stab him, and they killed him.”

The two officers later visited Elimelich in hospital, where he thanked them for their actions.

“It was an honor to save your life, that’s why we’re here,” one of the officers told Elimelich as they visited him at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

“We were doing our job, we were doing what had to be done,” said the other.

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