search operation Awarta - AFP - 17.4.11
A search operation in the village of Awarta. Photo by AFP
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AFP
Amjad Awad, suspected of murderering family in Itamar. Photo by AFP
AFP
Hakim Awad, suspected of murderering family in Itamar. Photo by AFP

Two Palestinian teenagers from the West Bank town of Awarta have been arrested on suspicion of killing five members of the Fogel family in Itamar last month, the Shin Bet security service announced yesterday.

Hakim Awad, 18, and Amjad Awad, 19, have both confessed to stabbing Udi and Ruth Fogel and three of their six children - Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and three-month-old Hadas - on March 11, shortly after the family ate Shabbat dinner.

The Shin Bet said both terror suspects are affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP ) but that it has not found evidence suggesting they acted on behalf of an organized terror group. The agency said it receives many warnings about attacks planned by Palestinians acting independently.

Hakim Awad was arrested on April 5 and Amjad Awad was arrested five days later (the two men are not related ). The arrests were not made public until yesterday.

The suspects "described what they did with self-control and did not express regret over their actions at any stage of the investigation," said a senior Shin Bet official. He said the men entered Itamar with the intention of carrying out a terror attack and stealing weapons.

Six additional Awarta residents, four of them members of Hakim Awad's family, were arrested on suspicion of involvement in hiding the weapon used in the attack and concealing additional evidence.

According to the Shin Bet investigation, the chief suspects decided just hours before the murders that they would carry out a terror attack, although they allegedly asked a PFLP operative from Awarta for weapons several days before the attack. He has since been arrested, along with a man arrested Thursday in Ramallah who is accused of holding two rifles the prime suspects allegedly stole from Itamar.

Carrying several knives and wire-cutting shears, Hakim Awad and Amjad Awad crossed from Awarta to the neighboring settlement of Itamar in around 10 minutes, climbed the security fence unnoticed and walked about 400 meters into the settlement, according to investigators.

Once inside, they allegedly broke into an empty home and stole an M-16 rifle, a weapons cartridge and a helmet before proceeding to the Fogel family home.

The suspects noticed Yoav and Elad Fogel in the window before entering the house, and stabbed them to death in their sleep, the Shin Bet says. The parents attempted to fend off the attackers, who opened fire with the stolen weapon.

Fearing the shots would bring neighbors running, the suspects fled but remained nearby. When they saw that the rainstorm appeared to have provided adequate cover, Amjad Awad went back in to steal an M-16 in the house - and for the first time noticed baby Hadas, who had been in her parents' bedroom. According to investigators, he stabbed her to death, then saw two more children - eight-year-old Ro'i and two-year-old Yishai - but fled rather than kill them and risk being found.

Around 90 minutes later, at 12:30 A.M., the oldest Fogel child - Tamar, 12 - came home from a youth group activity and discovered the bodies of her parents and siblings.

By then, says the Shin Bet, the suspects had returned to Awarta, and were hiding at the home of Hakim Awad's uncle, Salah Awad. He stands accused of helping them hide the knives and the stolen weapons and burn their blood-drenched clothes, after being told about the attack.

Hakim Awad's father, brother and another uncle were also arrested.

Shortly after the attack was reported, Israel Defense Forces troops scouted the area for terrorists and raided Awarta several hours later, on the assumption that the assailants had come from there. The town was placed under military curfew for four days and hundreds of its 8,000 residents were detained.

The Shin Bet said the reason the investigation took a month was that so few people knew about it and there was barely any groundwork laid for the attack.