Autopsy Reveals Eritrean Asylum Seeker Died From Gunshot Wounds, Not Lynching

The security officer who shot Haftom Zarhum claims he fired only one bullet, but the autopsy uncovered eight gunshot wounds. The attackers could still be charged with assault, murder or manslaughter.

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Habtom Zarhum, the Eritrean bystander killed in Be'er Sheva in October 2015
Habtom Zarhum, the Eritrean killed in Sunday night's terror attack in the Be'er Sheva bus station.Credit: (Courtesy)

Eritrean asylum seeker Haftom Zarhum died from gunshot wounds and not as a result of the mob beating that followed, says the autopsy report issued Wednesday by the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine. Zarhum was attacked and beaten as he lay in a pool of blood on the floor of the Be’er Sheva central bus station after being shot by a security officer who suspected he had carried out the terror attack that just took place. The autopsy report has been given to the police.

The autopsy found that Zarhum had eight gunshot wounds, two of which were fatal. On the day of the terror attack, Ziad As’am, the bus station security officer, claimed he fired just one shot at Zarhum. If this claim is substantiated, the police will have to determine how seven more bullets hit Zarhum.

Medical officials said that Zarhum suffered serious damage to his liver, lungs, diaphragm and colon, as well as multiple rib fractures as a result of the gunshot wounds. At the time of the beating, Zarhum was already mortally wounded by the gunfire and had lost a lot of blood. The autopsy also found that the beating to his head caused a broken nose, but no brain damage.

The determination of the cause of death has many implications for the charges that could be brought against those who beat Zarhum following the gunfire. Professor Emanuel Gross, an expert in criminal law, told Haaretz on Monday that if Zarhum’s death was caused by the shooting, his attackers could still be charged with assault or causing serious bodily harm, offenses punishable by up to 20 years in prison. If the autopsy reveals that the beating accelerated Zarhum’s death, they could possibly be charged with murder or manslaughter. Legal expert Mordechai Kremnitzer said that “even if someone is already dying and the blows only hasten his death, that is sufficient basis for a charge of manslaughter, and if there was an intention to kill, it could also constitute murder.”

Zarhum came to Be’er Sheva to obtain a residency permit and was at the bus station on his way home. Video footage from the scene shows that he was attacked by a group of people after being shot. They kicked him in the head and threw a bench at him. Others tried to move the attackers away from the injured man, who was held down on the floor by a chair. Zarhum was carrying official identification with his personal information and picture. He was taken to Soroka Medical Center in Be’er Sheva in very serious condition and died a few hours later.

Two days ago Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon called for the perpetrators of the lynching to be prosecuted. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein also informed Maj. Gen. Menny Yitzhaki, head of the Police’s Investigations and Intelligence Department, that due to the gravity of the incident, he intends to be involved in all stages of the investigation.

IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz said yesterday that the army’s Criminal Investigations Division would join the Israel Police in investigating the incident, and would look into any involvement by soldiers in the lynching, since one video clip from the scene appeared to show a soldier kicking Zarhum in the head. Once suspects have been identified, the military CID will launch an investigation.

The Defense Ministry also announced yesterday that it would not recognize Zarhum as a terrorism victim because he entered Israel illegally. According to the law, someone who is mistakenly hit by gunfire “in wake of a terrorist action by enemy forces” is eligible for this status. But the law explicitly states that a “terror attack victim” must be a resident of Israel, a citizen of Israel or have entered Israel legally.

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