Terrorism seemingly ruled out in Beersheba ‘security incident’

Terrorism seemingly ruled out in Beersheba ‘security incident’

Suspect moved from Shin Bet’s custody back to police after interrogation; man has history of mental illness

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Investigators on Thursday evening appeared to dismiss initial suspicions that a Bedouin man arrested in the southern city of Beersheba earlier in the day had been planning to commit a terror attack.

The suspect, whose name has not been released, was arrested in the afternoon following a brief manhunt.

He was initially suspected of planning a terror attack in the city and was therefore handed over to the Shin Bet security service for interrogation.

The Shin Bet would not say definitively that the man was no longer suspected of having terrorist motivations, but noted that he had been moved from the agency’s custody back to the police.

Sources said the man was also found to have a history of mental illness.

Police officers arrest a man suspected of planning to carry out a terror attack in the southern city of Beersheba on March 29, 2018. (Israel Police)

As of Thursday night, the police had not charged him with a crime. A second Bedouin man who drove the main suspect to Beersheba was also detained on Thursday. It was not clear if he would face charges.

The manhunt came amid a period of heightened tensions in southern Israel, as security forces prepared for a large protest in the Gaza Strip, which officials fear may include an attempt by masses of Palestinians to breach the security fence around the coastal enclave.

Also on Thursday, two Palestinians armed with a knife and wire cutters breached the security fence around Gaza, the fourth such incident in a week despite the army being on high alert in the area.

The men, from southern Gaza, were detained just after crossing into Israel and taken for questioning, the army said.

While Palestinians from the Gaza Strip regularly infiltrate into Israel, there has been an uptick in such breaches in recent days.

On Wednesday an unarmed man was arrested moments after he crossed from the northern Gaza Strip into Israeli territory, near the community of Zikim.

The day before that, a group of three armed Palestinian men infiltrated into Israeli territory from Gaza, walking more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the country over the course of several hours before they were arrested outside the Tzeelim army base. They were found to be in possession of grenades and knives.

The army’s failure to immediately realize that there’d been a breach on Tuesday — signs of the infiltration were only found hours after it had happened — prompted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman to call for a full investigation of the incident.

The Israel-Gaza border fence. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Hamas terror group has organized the protest planned for Friday, which is being held under the banner of “March of Return.” Palestinians have been constructing a tent city across from the Gaza security fence and have called on tens of thousands of Gaza residents to participate in what they described as a “peaceful protest.”

Friday is “Land Day,” which marks the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and the ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed. It is also, by coincidence, the eve of the week-long Passover festival.

The protests will continue for six weeks until May 15, the day after the anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, which Palestinians refer to as the Nakba, or catastrophe.


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