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Police probe jailed terror convict suspected of sexually assaulting female guards

Mahmoud Atallah, in solitary confinement over role in scandal that saw IDF soldiers ‘pimped’ to inmates, reportedly disclosed more misdeeds to Shin Bet staff in secret meeting

Tobias (Toby) Siegal is a breaking news editor and contributor to The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Police stand guard outside Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
Illustrative: Police stand guard outside Gilboa Prison in northern Israel, September 6, 2021. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Imprisoned Palestinian terror convict Mahmoud Atallah is suspected of sexually assaulting female soldiers serving as prison guards at the Gilboa Prison.

The Ynet news site revealed on Monday that police are investigating claims of serious sexual assault committed several years ago against a female soldier serving as a prison guard by a security inmate, with several outlets naming the suspect as Atallah.

Additionally, Ynet reported Wednesday that Atallah had recently secretly met with personnel from the Shin Bet and Israel Prisons Service’s intelligence unit in an attempt to be released from solitary confinement, prompting criticism of the security organizations.

Atallah has been in solitary confinement since 2018, over a scandal in which an intelligence officer allegedly “pimped” female guards to Atallah and to other Palestinian inmates, at his request.

The new probe indicates that police believe the scope of his actions is broader than previously thought.

The Lod District Court on Monday overturned a previous court decision and partially lifted a gag order on the case, allowing the publication of the investigation but not the nature of the severe offenses allegedly carried out, as the investigation is still ongoing.

“This is a horrifying case, one of the worse to ever take place in the State of Israel involving female soldiers during their military service,” said lawyer Keren Barak who represents the victims in the case.

“Israeli commanders pimped IDF soldiers and guards together with a terrorist with blood on his hands in order to satisfy his sexual needs. The State of Israel can no longer ignore these women. It must support them, rehabilitate them and acknowledge them as terror victims. Everyone involved must be brought to justice and the investigation needs to look into how far this went,” she added.

According to Wednesday’s report about Atallah’s meeting with Shin Bet and IPS officials, the prisoner had requested the meeting, which took place several months ago.

After the IPS refused to release him back to his previous ward, Atallah turned to the Shin Bet, hoping that providing new information about his alleged actions would play in his favor.

But the fact that such a meeting took place at his request has been met with criticism.

“Meeting with Atallah without notifying all relevant parties is like obstruction of justice,” an unnamed member of the state commission of inquiry into the Gilboa Prison break told Ynet.

“The case has been reopened, so why hold such a meeting when it’s clear that Atallah is trying to be released from solitary confinement?” the official added.

The Shin Bet issued a statement saying: “After Atallah made his request, the Shin Bet decided to stop meeting with him.”

Female soldiers first alleged in 2018 that they were forced into close contact with prisoners as sexual bargaining chips, leading to them being harassed and assaulted, but the case was closed due to a lack of evidence.

Then, in November last year, Gilboa Prison warden Freddy Ben Shitrit, who was not serving at the prison when the incidents allegedly took place, made bombshell remarks regarding the allegations. This led IPS chief Katy Perry to initiate proceedings to oust the intelligence officer at the prison, Rani Basha, who had been implicated in the case. State prosecutors also ordered police to reopen the probe into the case.

Gilboa prison commander Freddy Ben Shitrit arrives to give testimony at following the escape of security prisoners from the prison, in Modi’in, November 24, 2021. (Flash90)

And earlier this month, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev approved Basha’s dismissal, citing the “serious violation of his duties as a prison guard” and noting that the decision was made in part “to prevent serious damage to the public’s trust in the [IPS].”

In his remarks, Ben Shitrit said female soldiers who were guards at the prison had been pressed into serving as eye candy for some inmates, as a means of keeping prisoners from getting out of hand.

A female soldier who came forward said that she had been ordered to accompany Atallah around the facility, which gave him opportunities to assault her, including by groping her buttocks, while her bosses turned a blind eye.

In exchange, Atallah, a powerful figure among the prisoner population, kept the facility quiet for the prison staff, according to Channel 13 news.

The guards claimed the prison’s management knew about the abuse and covered it up until media reports by Channel 20 (now Channel 14) about the affair brought it to light in June 2018.

According to Ynet, Atallah would intimidate the female guards by mentioning the name of convicted Palestinian terrorist Amjad Awad, who carried out the terrorist attack in the settlement of Itamar in 2011, in which five members of the Fogel family were murdered in their beds.

The reports alleged that the intelligence officer, Basha, had placed female guards in the facility’s security wing at the request of Atallah. Channel 12 news has reported three soldiers were involved in the case.

In an interview with Channel 12 last year, Basha denied the allegations, saying they “aren’t true” and that the female soldiers had in fact been “agents” tasked — with their full consent — with extracting information from the inmates.

The ongoing police investigation may shed more light on Basha’s role in the ongoing abuse and the nature of the abuse inflicted on the soldiers by Atallah.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report. 

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