Chaim Pearlman in court Wednesday.
Chaim Pearlman in court Wednesday.
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It took the Jerusalem police a while to realize in 1998 that a serial killer was loose in the city's ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, apparently targeting Palestinians. Knifing followed knifing, in two cases fatal, of Palestinians mostly in the neighborhoods of Mea She'arim, Geula and Beit Yisrael.

Survivors said they never saw the face of their attacker, but he looked like an Orthodox Jew.

Only now has it been revealed that police believe Jewish extremist Chaim Pearlman may have been responsible for the string of attacks.

At first, the police thought the stabbings were the result of a falling out among Palestinian criminals, and only slowly did it dawn on them that the attacks were nationalistic in nature.

The attacker allegedly knifed his first victim, Hamzeh Obeidieh, on February 17, 1998. Obeidieh, 14, from Shoafat, who worked in a local grocery store, was slightly injured. A month later the attacker struck again, stabbing and moderately injuring another grocery store employee, Nasser Bsharat, 17, from Jaba, north of Jerusalem. Three days later, Hassan Ka'abneh, 35, was attacked on Mea She'arim's main thoroughfare, Mea She'arim Street, and was moderately to severely injured.

After the attack on Ka'abneh, the police established a special team to investigate possible nationalist motives for the attack. The fourth stabbing took place on April 29, the eve of Independence Day 1998. The victim was Wael Sawahri, a Jordanian citizen visiting his family in East Jerusalem. Sawahri had left Bikur Holim Hospital near Mea She'arim and was walking toward the Old City via Mea She'arim Street when he was stabbed from behind. As in the other cases, Sawahri could not give a description of his attacker, whose face was covered.

A week later, Nashed Salah, 38, was stabbed in the back at 5 A.M. when he was on his way to work at a bread distributor on Beit Yisrael Street. Salah told police his attacker was bearded, and gave a description of his clothing.

The sixth attack was the first fatal one: Khairi Alkam, a construction worker from Ras al-Amud who was on his way to work in Beit Yisrael, was stabbed repeatedly in the torso and died of his injuries. The next fatal attack was in December: Osama Natche, 41, from Abu Tor, was killed in his own neighborhood, in a departure from the killer's usual pattern.

The police were unable to obtain the cooperation of the residents of the Haredi neighborhoods that were the scene of the attacks. Although the stabbings were carried out in daylight, not one eye-witness came forward.

The special team tasked with investigating the stabbings discovered that one detail was the same in all the cases, which strengthened their assumption that the same nationalistically motivated man was behind it all.

Two months before Natche's murder, the Shin Bet security service and the investigations division in the Jerusalem police Central Unit arrested an extreme right-wing activist, Yehonatan Tzion Dadovich, then 32, from Ramot in Jerusalem.

Dadovich denied any connection to the stabbings and murder, and when a polygraph found him to be telling the truth, the police released him.