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Man Who Set Fire to Aksa Mosque Escapes from Mental Hospital, Captured by Police

Michael Denis William Rohan, the 29-year-old Australian who set fire to the E1 Aksa mosque in East Jerusalem on Aug. 21, 1969, will be transferred to a mental hospital inside the old Crusader’s fortress at Acre on Haifa Bay. The transfer was announced today by Health Minister Victor Shemtov following Rohan’s escape yesterday from a mental institution at Beer Yaacov. He was picked up by police several hours later. Rohan was found to be mentally ill at his trial in Jerusalem last year and was ordered confined to a mental hospital for an indeterminate period. He has been in three different institutions since then. Mr. Shemtov said a court of inquiry would be set up to determine how he managed to escape from Beer Yaacov. The former sheepherder was found by police at Mishmar Hasharon, a kibbutz near Nathanya where he formerly lived and studied Hebrew. Rohan had a long history of mental illness in his homeland. He confessed to setting fire to the Moslem shrine, claiming that he was ordered to do so by God as a first step toward rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem.

Dr. Reuben Mayer, director of the Beer Yaacov mental home, said yesterday that the patient’s mental condition had deteriorated since his trial. He said Rohan had hallucinations and was convinced that he was the Messiah. He told police that he escaped in order to see his girl friend, Tzipora who, he claimed, God ordained to be his “Queen” when he became “King of the world.” Rohan’s crime created an international sensation and aroused cries for a holy war against Israel in Arab and other Moslem states. The Arabs sought to implicate the Israel government in the mosque fire. Rohan’s confession and the testimony of psychiatrists at the trial made it clear that the arson was the act of a demented individual. Testimony also showed that Rohan was able to gain access to the mosque because of the laxity of Arab security guards.

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