Police still ‘believe’ Bedouin car-ramming was terrorism

Police still ‘believe’ Bedouin car-ramming was terrorism

‘We have never changed our version,’ spokeswoman says, as Justice Ministry continues to probe incident that killed an officer and a teacher

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)
Israeli police stand next to a vehicle that rammed into police officers in the Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev desert, January 18, 2017. (Israel Police)

The Israel Police is sticking to its claim that a Bedouin teacher shot dead during an operation to demolish illegally built homes deliberately ran over and killed a police officer in an act of terrorism.

“We never changed our version. We have reasons for our thinking. We believe it was an act of terror,” a police spokeswoman, Meirav Lapidot, told a media conference in the southern city of Eilat on Tuesday.

“Even today, when we know what we know, we cannot give a different answer to what happened,” she said during a panel discussion on the subject of police in a democratic society.

Israel Police Spokeswoman Merav Lapidot, November 28, 2007. (Photo by Moshe Shai/FLASH90)

The incident took place in the early morning of January 18 when police arrived to oversee the demolition of homes in the unrecognized Bedouin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev, which the state was seeking to remove in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

As officers converged on Umm al-Hiran, Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, 47, a teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, telling friends that he did not wish to witness its destruction. Soon afterward, the vehicle with Abu Al-Qia’an at the wheel rammed into a group of officers, killing 1st Sgt. Erez Lev, 34. Abu Al-Qia’an was shot dead by the officers at the scene.

A week ago, the State Prosecution asked the Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department to reopen an earlier probe of the incident, in light of a document written by the Shin Bet internal security service.

On Thursday, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich accused the PID of having buried the document, which contained testimonies of the incident. The department denied the claim, saying it had only recently become aware of it.

Over recent days, several officers have been questioned.

Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) quoted high-placed legal sources saying the document had brought up certain issues that still needed to be examined. Once that process had been completed, an opinion would be sent to the state prosecution service.

Lapidot, the police spokeswoman, told the media conference that police were waiting for that final report.

Joint (Arab) List leader MK Ayman Odeh holds the body of Yaqoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an, in a funeral that took place on January 24, 2017, near the village of Umm al-Hiran. (Joint List Spokesperson)

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and the police asserted that Abu al-Qia’an was a terrorist inspired by the Islamic State group who was shot after intentionally ramming his vehicle into the officers.

The charge was vehemently denied by his family, who argued that he was shot before his car sped up, leading him to lose control of the vehicle.

The authorities have indicated since that likely lost control of the vehicle after being shot, and did not intentionally hit the officers.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

A six-month probe by the Police Internal Investigations Department concluded in August there was no indication that officers had acted criminally in shooting Abu Al-Qia’an.

The findings were transferred to the attorney general and the state’s attorney, who have not yet given a final decision on whether to press charges.

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