JERUSALEM (Mar. 4)
Four Israeli Arabs have been arrested for the brutal murder of three Israel Defense Force recruits at a training camp in central Israel during the night of Feb. 15, Police Inspector-General Ya’acov Terner announced Wednesday.
The suspects, whom he did not name, were identified as residents of Umm el-Fahm, the largest Arab town in Israel, located in the north-central sector of the country, and Musheirifa, an Arab village in the Wadi Ara region near Afula.
They have confessed and reenacted their crime for the police, Terner said.
The disclosure shocked and frightened Israel’s Arab population, which numbers about 750,000. The vast majority do not engage in security offenses, though many sympathize with the Palestinians in the administered territories.
Terner stressed that there was no reason to associate law-abiding Israeli Arab citizens with the suspects, who apparently belong to the extremist Islamic Jihad.
A leader of the Islamic movement in Israel, Sheik Abdullah Nimer Darwish, condemned the murders in the strongest terms Wednesday. He said attacks on soldiers were no less despicable than on civilians.
Haim Someh, the police officer in immediate charge of the investigation, said the terrorist cell was organized locally and had no outside help.
Israel Radio said two of the suspects are brothers named Ibrahim and Mohammed, who were taken into custody in Musheirifa on Feb. 26 with their father and a third brother.
According to police sources, the arrests were made after weapons stolen from the training camp by the killers were discovered in their home. The two M-16 rifles and one Gillion rifle were concealed behind a freshly built concrete wall.
INQUIRY BEGUN TO TRACK LEAK
According to police, the suspects first tried to divert attention of their questioners to Arab villagers in the West Bank. But they broke down Tuesday night and named their two accomplices in Umm el-Fahm, who were promptly arrested.
In addition to the four prime suspects, security forces have arrested an undisclosed number of people linked directly or indirectly to the killings.
The police have meanwhile launched an internal investigation to find out who tipped off right-wing Knesset member Rehavam Ze’evi to the arrests a week before they were announced.
Ze’evi, a former Cabinet member, created an uproar in the Knesset on Feb. 26 when he stated on the floor that the killers have been caught.
He demanded their trial in a civilian court and a mandated death penalty.
The Defense Ministry promptly denied Ze’evi’s story and insisted the killers were still not apprehended. The Knesset member was accused of making irresponsible statements that could jeopardize the investigation.
But apparently his information was correct, since he disclosed it on the day the first arrests were made. Ze’evi enjoys parliamentary immunity. He said his source was a senior police official.
The three recruits, two of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union, were hacked to death with knives, axes and a pitchfork.