The ex-girlfriend of an Israeli man who faked his own kidnapping in the West Bank said Sunday that she had told police of her doubts about Niv Asraf’s disappearance even as the search for him was in full sway. She also disputed accounts linking his prank to their breakup.
In an interview with Channel 2, the woman, who asked to remain unnamed, said that she still stands by Asraf, 22, although she doesn’t support his actions. He is accused of staging his own disappearance last week with the aid of his friend, Eran Nagauker.
The woman, who is a soldier in the IDF, said that even while the search was still on, she told police that she believed the alleged kidnapping was not real. “The police know exactly what I said,” she said, although she offered no motive for Asraf’s actions.
Disputing earlier reports, she insisted it was not heartbreak over their breakup that prompted Asraf to hide in a valley near a Jewish settlement while Nagauker reported him missing to police.
“I spoke to him the night before the incident, but there was no sign of anything that seems to me to be important,” she said. “Since then I have not heard from him and I don’t know what I will say to him when I see him. In my opinion the matter has nothing to do with our breakup.”
Asraf and Nagauker were granted conditional release by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday morning pending a decision on a trial in their case. Nagauker, a career soldier, would be released by the IDF over his part in the prank, Yedioth Ahronoth reported.
Reports had indicated that Asraf, a resident of Beersheba, carried out the kidnapping prank last Thursday in order to win back his ex-girlfriend. But over the weekend he told detectives that he owed thousands in soccer bets to “well-known criminals,” and that he ran away in order to escape paying the exorbitantly high interest rates they demanded.
“I want to say to all the soldiers that I am sorry,” the ex-girlfriend said, referring to the multiple units deployed by the army in the search for Asraf. Still, she added, the public should hold back on criticizing Asraf until the full details of the affair become clear.
Asraf’s mother also expressed regret Sunday over her son’s actions, and said she was unaware of any gambling debts.
“No one contacted us and we had no idea about any gambling,” Yael Asraf told Channel 2. “He [just] bought a car and had money in his bank account — I know that for sure.”
On the contrary, she said, Asraf had recently won a lot of money on sports bets, and may have fled to escape extortion attempts after telling a number of people about his winnings, Israel Radio reported.
Asraf said she was deeply sorry for the pain caused to the public by her son’s staged kidnapping. “[I beg] for forgiveness,” she said.
The disappearance, near the same area of the West Bank where three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed less than a year ago, sent hundreds of soldiers, police and agents of the Shin Bet security agency on a massive house-to-house manhunt in Palestinian villages around Hebron.
The operation, which took several hours, cost the state several million shekels, police said. Helicopters were deployed, war rooms set up and massive forces mobilized for the search.
Both men are suspected of giving false evidence, breach of public order and obstruction to a police officer in the performance of his duty.
The Palestinian Authority also assisted in the search, Channel 1 television news reported.
Nagauker, Asraf’s friend and accomplice, called police just after 4 p.m. and reported that Asraf had entered the Palestinian village of Beit Anun and hadn’t returned.
The village became the focal point of the Israeli search, with troops flooding the area searching homes and fields. The army also set up roadblocks on Route 60, the main north-south artery connecting Jerusalem and Hebron, and Route 35.
According to the account given by Nagauker, the two men got a flat tire while driving on the road between the settlement of Kiryat Arba and Beit Anun.
Asraf went to get tools to fix the flat from the nearby Arab village and disappeared, he said.
However, Asraf was found safe and sound in a nearby valley late Thursday with a sleeping bag and some canned food. Police said the event was being considered as a “prank” and a massive “waste of resources.”