Third suspect indicted in arson attack on historic church


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A third suspect was indicted in the alleged arson attack on a historic church in northern Israel.

The suspect, 24, from the central Israeli city of Bnei Brak near Tel Aviv, was charged Thursday in Nazareth Magistrate’s Court with holding materials that incite to violence or terror. He was released to house arrest.

The indictment comes a day after two other suspects, ages 19 and 20, were indicted in the attack on the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes.

The suspects are part of a group of activists with “an extremist ideology” that has operated since 2013, according to the Shin Bet security service, and “aspires to change the regime and bring about the redemption via various stages of action.” Some of the activists also have been involved with the settler hilltop youth in the West Bank.

The group began with anti-Christian activity, including vandalizing and arson attacks on Christian sites, and also tried unsuccessfully to disrupt the May 2014 visit to Israel and the West Bank of Pope Benedict XVI. In the last year it also perpetrated arson attacks on Palestinian homes, the Shin Bet said.

Police initially detained 16 youths who were hiking in the area on the evening before the attack.

Along with the fire that struck the church, located on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee, graffiti reading “False idols will be smashed” and “pagans” were found on its walls. The site is where Jesus is believed to have fed thousands of people with five loaves of bread and two fish.

Built on the site of a fifth-century church, the church contains restored mosaic floors from the time period. The fire reportedly damaged the church’s roof and structure, as well as burned hundreds of books, according to Haaretz.

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