The Shin Bet security service on Monday identified the prime suspect in the murder of Esther Horgen in the northern West Bank last month as a 40-year-old Palestinian man from a nearby village.
According to the security service, Muhammad Mruh Kabha, from Tura al-Gharbiya near Jenin, is suspected of carrying out the terror attack as a form of vengeance for the death of a security prisoner, Kamel Abu Waer, who died of cancer six weeks before.
Though Palestinian sources had identified Kabha as the prime suspect in the terror attack, his name was barred from publication under a court-issued gag order until Monday. The Times of Israel also confirmed Palestinian reports that he had served time in Israeli prison on security-related charges several times in the past. However, Kabha has no known ties to any Palestinian terror groups, the Shin Bet said.
Kabha was arrested on December 24 and confessed to investigators.
“During his interrogation by the Shin Bet and Israel Police, it emerged that he brutally murdered Esther Horgen, of blessed memory, for nationalistic motives,” the security service said.
According to the Shin Bet, upon deciding to carry out a terror attack following Abu Waer’s death on November 10, Kabha began searching for a way to do so.
He was aware of a gap in the fence in the Reihan forest outside the settlement of Tal Menashe because he had used it in the past to smuggle cigarettes into Israel, the security service said.
“After he noticed that there was only light traffic and that Israeli citizens pass through the area, he decided that this would be an appropriate area to carry out a terror attack,” the Shin Bet said.
On December 20, Horgen, 52, a mother of six, went for a hike in the Reihan forest. Kabha, who had been waiting in the area for a victim to pass by, spotted her walking alone and “attacked and murdered her,” the security service said.
Horgen’s body was found in the early hours of the next morning after her husband, Benjamin, reported her missing.
According to the Shin Bet, after killing Horgen, Kabha fled the area and received help from friends and relatives, who helped him hide as Israeli security forces searched for him.
Nevertheless, Kabha was arrested last week, along with four people the Shin Bet said helped him hide. Palestinian media reported that two of those people were his wives.
According to Channel 13 news, investigators received intelligence on his identity four days after the attack and waited to determine that he was home before arresting him.
Horgen’s husband praised Israeli security forces for quickly apprehending the suspect “who planned to carry out more attacks” and said he had been updated by the Shin Bet about the details of his wife’s murder before the information was released to the public.
“I heard and I listened with great attention. There were specific details that were important for me to hear. The fact that Esther fought with the assailant is comforting and shows her spirit, but it is also painful because it means she had some difficult moments before her death,” he said in a statement.
Horgen said his family planned to build a park in Esther’s memory and to expand their home settlement of Tal Menashe.
“We plan to continue to the efforts that we started, of positive action, of building, of a park in her memory, of expanding the Tel Menashe community and everything else we can do in order to spread light and dispel darkness, to increase joy and beat back sadness,” he said.
Samaria Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan said that the proper response to Horgen’s death was to “strengthen the settlement of Samaria,” referring to the northern West Bank.
“I call upon the prime minister to approve construction in Tel Menashe by next week as the true response to the murder,” Dagan said.
Horgen’s murder sparked weeks of ongoing tension in the West Bank. On the night after her body was found, dozens of settlers marched through Huwara, a Palestinian village close to Nablus, in response to the murder. According to Israeli media reports, 13 allegations that settlers threw stones at Palestinians were reported on the day after Horgen’s body was found.
On Sunday, a group of Palestinians threw stones at Israeli cars traveling along a highway near Ramallah, one of which struck a woman, Rivka Tytell, in the head, seriously injuring her. Later that night, the suspects were arrested following a manhunt in the area of Deir Nidham in the central West Bank, the military said.