Police: Suspects Planned Palestinian Teen's Death in Advance, Burned Him Alive

Court lifts gag order on grisly murder of Palestinian teen, reveals suspects' desire to avenge murder of 3 Jewish teens; victim's cellphone found in one suspect's home.

Mohammed Abu Khdeir, selfie, date unknown, published July 7, 2014.
Mohammed Abu Khdeir, selfie, date unknown, published July 7, 2014.

The suspects in the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir two weeks ago planned the abduction in advanced, purchasing gasoline and other material, before snatching the 16-year-old off the streets of East Jerusalem and burning him alive – it was revealed on Monday, after the gag order on the incident was partially lifted.

According to a statement issued by the Jerusalem District Police on Monday, an investigation has revealed that three of the six people arrested at the outset are the main suspects in the murder. Two of the three had attacked Musa Zalum, 9, also from Shoafat, the day before the murder, and had fled. Zalum was lightly wounded in the neck.

The investigation also revealed that on the night of the kidnapping and murder, before they went to Shoafat, the suspects tried to kidnap another youth in Wadi Joz, but failed. In Shoafat, they drove for about 22 minutes before spotting Abu Khdeir.

The gag order on the names and identifying details of the suspects remains in force.

'Motive was revenge'

The investigation has revealed that the police hotline received the first call about Abu Khdeir's kidnapping at 4:48 A.M. The police responded quickly: Roadblocks were set up and searches began. At the same time, efforts were made to pinpoint the location of the teen's cellphone, and at 5:20 A.M., Abu Khdeir’s body was found in the Jerusalem Forest.

Jerusalem District Police Chief Yossi Pariente immediately announced the formation of a special investigative team, together with the Shin Bet security service. In addition, detectives at the police's Jerusalem central investigative unit established two secondary teams — one to look into a possible criminal motive for the murder, and the other to determine whether it was a "nationalist" crime motivated by Jewish extremism.

The investigation located public and private security cameras along the escape route that filmed the kidnapping; some of the footage showed the kidnappers talking among themselves and later forcing Abu Khdeir into their car and driving off. But the cameras did not record the car’s license plate or its color. However, three days after the murder, the detectives succeeded in identifying the vehicle – a popular model in Israel –after narrowing down suspected cars according to the year they were manufactured.

The next day, police officers and Shin Bet personnel arrested the six suspects, and their remand was extended by eight days. The suspects told detectives about the attack on Zalum and the torching of the store.

The investigators' statement reads, in part: “On July 2, 2014, the three suspects decided together to kidnap and murder an Arab. They searched for a victim in several Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, finally arriving in Shoafat. When they saw that the teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was alone, they seized him, forced him into their car, beat and stunned him and took him to the Jerusalem Forest. There they threw him out of the car, poured gasoline on him, set him on fire and fled.

"During the investigation, the three suspects confessed to the charges against them and re-enacted the events. Moreover, they said their motive was revenge for the kidnapping and murder of the three Jewish teenagers [Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah].”

In addition to the confessions, one important piece of evidence against the suspects was discovery of Abu Khdeir’s cellphone in one of their homes. Other physical evidence tying them to the murder scene and the victim was found as well.

The three other suspects in custody were not involved in the murder, but knew about it afterward. They were released, with restrictions, four days ago.

The police are not convinced by claims made by the minors' relatives, who say the minors were swept along by the adult and did not fully comprehend his intentions. A source close to the investigation said that his impression was that all of the suspects planned their actions together. However, sources said that they do not believe the suspects are part of an organized underground cell, adding that their attempts to cover their trails were clumsy.  

The State Prosecutor’s Office submitted a statement to Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court Monday, according to which the three suspects will be indicted for murder, kidnapping with intent to commit murder, arson and attempted arson attributable to racist-nationalist motives.

The main suspects have undergone psychiatric evaluation during their remand. According to officials involved in the case, that process was not supposed to confirm or rule out criminal responsibility; its purpose was to determine appropriate treatment of the three while in custody.