The IDF soldier who shot dead his comrade in a friendly fire incident this week is saying that he followed the military’s open-fire policy and shot in the air, but still felt in danger after the man he believed to be a suspect continued running toward him, according to a Tuesday report.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Fitoussi, 20, was shot dead by a comrade in the Kfir Brigade late Monday, after apparently being misidentified upon returning to a guard post along the West Bank border barrier near the Palestinian city of Tulkarem.
According to the IDF’s preliminary probe into the killing, the shooting soldier followed the military’s open-fire procedures. Those include shouting at a suspect to halt, firing into the air, and only using deadly force if the soldier feels threatened.
Fitoussi told his comrades in a guard position near Tulkarem that he was going to pray and would return a short while later. But when he returned, his comrade “shot him after an arrest procedure, which included shooting into the air and at the legs,” military spokesperson Ran Kochav told Kan public radio on Tuesday morning.
There were several meters of distance between the pair during the late-night shooting, according to the initial probe. Fitoussi was shot twice, and it was unclear why he was misidentified as a threat.
On Tuesday evening, Channel 12 news published what it said were quotes from the shooter’s testimony in the probe.
“I identified a suspicious figure and shouted several times ‘Who is it? Stop or I shoot,'” he reportedly recalled. “I heard no response and I shot two bullets in the air. The suspicious figure continued running toward me, so I shot between four and six bullets in semi-automatic mode to neutralize the threat.”
The probe is trying to determine how the fatal misunderstanding unfolded, why the shooter identified Fitoussi as a suspect when he knew Fitoussi had left to pray and was due to come back, and why Fitoussi hadn’t stopped or followed his comrade’s orders to identify himself.
Tuesday’s report, which cited no sources, said that one of the possible explanations being investigated is that Fitoussi had heard the soldier’s yells, thought they were directed at a different suspect, and was running to help him.
Another question being probed is why the initial prevailing assessment was that the incident was a terror attack, with many troops being called to pursue nonexistent Palestinian gunmen.
The IDF initially reported the incident as a shooting attack, and according to Palestinian media, troops began to search for suspected gunmen in Tulkarem. But shortly thereafter, a military official said the incident was likely friendly fire.
זאת העמדה סמוך לגדר קו התפר ליד כפר שווכה בה נורה בשוגג למוות לוחם כפיר סמ"ר נתן פיטוסי ז"ל. כמה עשרות מטרים מפרידות בין העמדה למקום שבו נורה הלוחם. חבריו הקימו במקום גלעד אבנים. טרגדיה נוראית pic.twitter.com/neRhlPtbK2
— איתי בלומנטל Itay Blumental (@ItayBlumental) August 16, 2022
Fitoussi’s parents harbor no resentment toward the soldier who fatally shot their son, a family friend told reporters Tuesday.
“The family has no anger toward the soldier who shot. Not only are they not angry with him, they even feel sorry for him and I have no doubt that they would want to meet him,” said Meir Fitoussi, a close friend of the deceased soldier’s father.
“The father is a dentist. They have three daughters… and Nathan was the only son. They left everything in France and came to Israel,” he said.
Fitoussi was laid to rest at the Netanya military cemetery on Tuesday evening.
The initial probe was conducted by IDF chief Aviv Kohavi alongside Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs and other senior IDF officers.
IDF spokesman Kochav said the shooting soldier was cooperating with the ongoing investigation. “We will take care of him and try to understand what went through his mind and why this mistake was made,” he said.
The Military Advocate General issued a statement on behalf of the soldier, saying he had “followed orders and instructions.”
“This is a heartbreaking tragic event, in which our client’s best friend lost his life. He wishes to send his sincere condolences to the family for their heavy loss,” the statement said.
“Our client participated all night in investigations of the unfortunate accident that happened during operational activity. Now the soldier is being asked to testify. All that can be said now while the incident is still under investigation, is that the soldier followed orders and instructions,” the advocate general added.
According to Army Radio, the IDF had assigned an officer to accompany the shooting soldier and “to try to help him cope with the incident.”
Earlier this year, two IDF officers from a commando unit were killed in a friendly fire accident at a base in the Jordan Valley in the West Bank.
Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.