The Shin Bet security service had yet to confirm by Wednesday night the Israel Police’s repeated claims that a Bedouin man who drove his car into a group of officers pre-dawn on Wednesday was connected to the Islamic State terrorist group.
Early on Wednesday morning, police officers arrived at Umm al-Hiran, northeast of Beersheba, to oversee the razing of several homes in the Bedouin village.
Ahead of the demolition, local schoolteacher Yaqoub Mousa Abu al-Qia’an slammed his car into a group of police officers, killing one. Before he struck them, a police officer could be seen firing a weapon close to his car.
According to Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, such gunfire was fired into the air, while relatives of Abu al-Qia’an said the police shot and killed him.
Video footage from the scene was inconclusive, showing an officer shooting in the direction of Abu al-Qia’an’s jeep, before he sped up and hit other officers. This could either have been his intention or an unfortunate result of his being shot.
Police quickly labeled the incident a terror attack, while locals said Abu al-Qia’an ran into the officers after they had opened fire at him, which caused him to lose control of the vehicle. Officer Erez Levi, 34, was killed when he was struck by the car.
The deputy commander of the police southern district, Peretz Amar, said the incident was “a deliberate attack. This is clear. This is a fact. There is no other explanation, and anyone who tries to offer an alternative explanation wasn’t here at the time and doesn’t understand.”
The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigations Department is expected to look into the case to determine if the police’s gunfire was warranted, the Walla news site reported.
Despite the ambiguity, police officers have doubled-down on the terror attack assertion since Wednesday morning, making multiple statements tying Abu al-Qia’an to the Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh.
In a statement immediately following the incident, police said he was “a member of the Islamic Movement’s southern branch, and his connection to Daesh is being investigated.”
Police followed that with a statement saying they’d found three copies of a November 5, 2015, edition of the Israel Hayom daily whose banner headline concerned an Islamic State bomb attack on an airliner, as well as a number of “Arabic-language books.”
While a few dozen Arab Israelis have been charged with supporting the Islamic State or attempting to join its fight in Syria and Iraq, the Sunni terrorist group has not made the same headway in Israel as it has in many Western countries.
In his eulogy of Levi at his funeral, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich made another indirect allegation, noting that six teachers had been arrested for supporting IS from the school where Abu al-Qia’an worked.
“[Abu al-Qia’an] spread incitement at a school where six other teachers have been arrested for they affiliation with the Islamic State,” Alsheich said. “The terrorist looked for a group of police officers, accelerated and then hit them.”
However, the Shin Bet security service, which is also taking part in the investigation of the incident, has yet to find conclusive evidence connecting the 47-year-old father of 12 to the Islamic State.
“The issue is still under investigation,” the agency told The Times of Israel.
The security service told Israel’s Channel 10 news that its agents had found no evidence to support the police’s claim that Abu al-Qia’an rammed his car into Levi and the other police officers out of Islamic State ideology.
Earlier this month, Israeli politicians claimed that Fadi al-Qunbar, who rammed his truck into a group of IDF soldiers, killing four of them, had connections to the Islamic State — an assertion The Shin Bet failed to substantiate.
Arab lawmakers and others have rejected the assessment that al-Qia’an was a terrorist, instead blaming police violence and state-sponsored discrimination against Israel’s Arab minority for the violent flare up that ensued after the demolitions.
Joint (Arab) List MK Taleb Abu Arar said the morning of violence was “a war declared by the police and the state against the Arabs,” and claimed police “sprayed the scene with live, indiscriminate fire, even hitting their own cars.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.