Shin Bet report said to have ruled out terror in Bedouin village car-ramming
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Shin Bet report said to have ruled out terror in Bedouin village car-ramming

Document reportedly concluded last year's deadly incident in Umm al-Hiran was caused by 'serious police failure'; state has cleared officers of wrongdoing

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)

A Shin Bet report about a deadly incident in Umm al-Hiran last year reportedly concluded that a resident of the Bedouin town did not deliberately ram police with his car, and that the death of a policeman at the scene stemmed from a “serious mistake” by officers.

The State Attorney’s Office last month closed an investigation into the incident, saying it could not determine whether Yacoub Mousa Abu Al-Qia’an had committed an act of terrorism, after reviewing the entire investigation material, including the Shin Bet document. The investigation led by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan determined that officers who shot Abu Al-Qia’an moments before his car ran into officer Erez Levi were not suspected of a criminal offense, and acted legally when they opened fire.

Both Abu Al-Qia’an and Levi died in the incident.

The document by a Shin Bet coordinator “completely ruled out” the possibility of a premeditated terror attack, and listed the option that Abu Al-Qia’an committed a spontaneous terror attack as “low possibility,” Haaretz reported Monday.

The Shin Bet coordinator investigated the scene in the first few hours after the incident on January 18, 2017, and heard testimony from those involved, according to the report. It said Shin Bet staff left the place shortly afterward, concluding there was no evidence the incident was a terror attack. That was said to have been the end of the Shin Bet inspection.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit (L) and state prosecutor Shai Nitzan attend a Ministry of Justice conference in Tel Aviv, December 21, 2016. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The document reportedly supported the evidence indicating that one of the police officers had been negligent when he shot directly at Abu Al-Qia’an instead of first using less lethal measures to arrest him. The Shin Bet coordinator was said to conclude that the death of Abu Al-Qia’an and Levi was caused by the officers’ “serious operational failure.”

The document caused turmoil in high levels of police, Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry, prompting the investigation to be reopened after an internal police investigation had cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing in August.

Two months after the original ruling, Nitzan ordered a fresh investigation after investigators with the Police Internal Investigations Department were accused by Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich of burying the Shin Bet document.

Police officer 1st Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was killed in what was initially alleged to be a car-ramming attack at Umm al-Hiran, January 18, 2017. (Courtesy)

The report said senior Shin Bet officials were surprised and baffled at the time to learn that Alsheich had knowledge of the document. The police chief had mistakenly expected it to determine that the incident had been a terror attack, according to Haaretz.

Eventually, the document was handed over to the PIID at the order of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The PIID, which is under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry and not the police, denied burying the document, but reopened its investigation and re-questioned the officers who were at the scene, submitting its revised findings — apparently contradicting the Shin Bet document — to Nitzan in December.

“After reviewing the materials and findings by the Police Internal Investigations Department, the investigation has ended with the determination that there is no suspicion of criminal offenses committed by the police officers involved in the incident,” Nitzan said in his decision in May.

Immediately after the January 2017 incident, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asserted that Abu Al-Qia’an was an Islamic State-inspired terrorist who was shot at because he accelerated his vehicle toward a group of police officers, killing Levi.

Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an (Courtesy)

But video footage that emerged in the hours after the incident showed the officers opened fire before Abu Al-Qia’an sped up, and that his car’s lights were on during the predawn incident, contrary to early police assertions. A Channel 10 report at the time said Abu Al-Qia’an’s autopsy further revealed that a police bullet hit him in the right knee, shattering it, and possibly causing the car to accelerate.

In the months following the attack, police doubled down on Erdan’s initial claim that Abu Al-Qia’an had deliberately run over and killed the officer. In November, police spokeswoman Meirav Lapidot told journalists that police “had reasons” for concluding the incident was terrorism, and said they had “never changed” their version of events.

The incident occurred when police arrived to oversee the demolition of homes in Umm al-Hiran, an unrecognized village that the state is removing in order to clear the way for a new Jewish town.

As officers converged on the town, Al-Qia’an, a 47-year-old teacher and father of 12, packed a few belongings into his SUV and drove from his house, saying he could not bear to watch it be razed. Soon afterward, Abu Al-Qia’an was shot by police and his vehicle rammed into a group of officers.

Activists and others said police had used excessive force in Umm al-Hiran, pointing to what they claimed was institutionalized racism against Arabs, including Bedouin.

Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.

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