Friends Say Afula 'Terrorist' Suffering From Mental Health Issues

Asra'a Abed is a divorced mother whose child was taken from her after a previous suicide attempt.

Gil Eliahu

Asra’a Zidan Abed, who was shot and wounded last Friday after drawing a knife in Afula’s bus terminal, was suffering acute distress and had serious mental health problems, people who know her said last week.

They said Abed’s mental condition raises questions about her motives in pulling out a knife in Afula’s bus terminal, suggesting she did not plan to attack anyone and perhaps even wanted to be killed.

Abed, 30, of Nazareth, is divorced and the mother of a child. She was hospitalized in moderate condition after the shooting but her condition is now described as good.

According to a friend, Abed’s child, a girl, was removed from her custody after Abed attempted to commit suicide.

Nazareth Mayor Ali Salam, who is close to Abed’s family and knows her personally, said she had attempted suicide in the past and perhaps went to the terminal with the knife knowing she would be hurt.

Salam said Abed was an outstanding student who had received a certificate of excellence from the municipality. However, she found herself in acutre distress in recent years, following her divorce and family problems.

A former classmate of Abed’s who asked to remain anonymous said “Asra’a was a gifted student and always excelled in class. But we felt she moved away from us after high school.”

“She married at 18, but as far as we know it wasn’t a successful relationship and she got divorced after a year. She had a very difficult time and tried to take her own life. For this reason, apparently, her only daughter was taken away from her, which made things even more difficult for her,” the friend said.

She said she had talked with Abed’s family and understood that Abed had wanted to end her life.

A source in the psychological services who knows Abed told Haaretz she was a regular patient.

Haaretz has learned that Abed’s medical file was taken by the security forces after the shooting. Her relatives said they believe her mental state will help to dispel the notion that she is a terrorist in her trial.

Abed’s father, Sheikh Zidan Abed of Nazareth, who is seen known as a political moderate, told Haaretz his daughter had never planned to hurt anyone. “She couldn’t harm a cat,” he said.

Abed was supposed to begin her Masters degree studies in genetic engineering in the Technion on Sunday, after completing her first degree a few years ago.

“As you saw in the video footage, she didn’t pose a danger to anyone’s life,” Sheikh Abed said. “She was a respectable woman she wanted to live with all people and help people.”

In footage that did the rounds on social networks after the shooting, Abed is seen standing at the Afula terminal with a knife in her hand, surrounded by security men aiming their guns at her. She stands motionless for several seconds. Then a policeman steps toward her and fires. Several shots are heard. More than 10 shells and bullets were found at the site.

A senior police officer told Haaretz that Abed’s action is being regarded as an attempted terror attack and is being investigated jointly by the police and Shin Bet. It was up to the court to decide how her mental condition would affect the case, he said.

The court is due to decide on on Tuesday whether to extend Abed’s detention.