The Israel Defense Force is investigating reports that an Islamic militant died after being interrogated by Israeli security agents.
Abed A-Samed Harizat, 30, was detained by Israeli security forces April 21. He died in the intensive care unit of Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital on April 25, after he was brought there unconscious and in serious condition, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Harizat’s brother, Abdallah, claimed that he had been beaten to death. He also said his brother had been a religious man, but did not have ties to the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas movement, Israel Radio reported.
According to some media reports, Harizat was a known supporter of Hamas and had been arrested by Israeli security officials in the past.
Senior Israeli security sources were quoted by Israel Radio as saying that Harizat ran a squad responsible for a number of fatal attacks on Jewish settlers near the West Bank town of Hebron.
The Justice Ministry’s unit in charge in investigating police actions has started looking into the circumstances of Harizat’s death.
The ministry announced last week that an autopsy would be carried out on carried out on Harizat, a move his family agreed to after Israel allowed the family to be represented by a pathologist from Scotland.
On Sunday, after the autopsy was performed, the Scottish pathologist, Dr. Derrick Pounder, said Harizat had been tortured to death.
The pathologist said Harizat’s injuries could not have been caused by any other means, such as a fall. He said he and two Israelis, who also took part in the autopsy, had agreed that Harizat suffered several hard blows to the head, which caused the fatal brain injuries.
In the wake of an interim report on the circumstances surrounding Harizat’s death, the head of Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, transferred one of the agency’s interrogators to a different post.
According to the interim report, the agent who was transferred may not have followed the correct procedures for questioning.
The incident drew attention to questions surrounding the interrogation methods used by Israel’s security agents.
In 1988, the Landau Commission set standards for interrogation of suspects believed to have committed security crimes. In such cases, the commission allowed for the use of “moderate physical pressure.”
The commission also granted authority to a special ministerial committee headed by the prime minister to ease restrictions on the use of moderate physical and psychological pressure in situations where there is suspicion of a terror attack being carried out.
Environment Minister Yossi Sarid, who sits on the ministerial committee monitoring the Shin Bet, said there would be no cover-up if the full findings of the investigation into Harizat’s death show that he was tortured.
“When we have the full report on what happened in his investigation, we will have to decide whether someone took extra measures that are unlawful,” he told reporters after the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday. “If that is the case, he will be brought to trial.”
Security sources defended the need for certain interrogation procedures, saying that without them, they could not have identified Harizat as a Hamas squad leader.
They also said that interrogations, as allowed by the Landau Commission, made it possible for security forces to locate Islamic Jihad and Hamas terrorists in recent weeks. Some West Bank Palestinians held strikes in response to the charges by human rights organizations and relatives of Harizat that he was tortured to death.
Meanwhile, Israeli security forces last week detained 14 Palestinian activists in Hebron suspected of carrying out 10 suicide bombings against Israelis between 1993 and 1994, an army spokesperson said. Security sources said the Islamic cell was planning several bomb attacks inside Israel and the territories.
In a separate development, Israel Television reported last week that security forces had detained seven members of the Palestinian security service in Hebron.
Under the terms of the self-rule accord, the operations of Palestinian security forces are restricted to the autonomous areas of the Gaza Strip and West Bank Jericho enclave.