Murder of Palestinian Teen: Four Days Later, What the Public Knows So Far

Police have released only few details about the circumstance of Mohammed Abu Khdeir's death and investigation so far.

Nir Hasson
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Mourners rally for the funeral of Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16.Credit: AFP
Nir Hasson

The police investigation into the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir began last Wednesday, a few minutes before 4 A.M., when the teen’s father, Hussein, called police and reported that his son had been forced into a car on the main street of Shoafat, in northern Jerusalem.

Minutes before, two teens from the neighborhood had seen two unknown persons pushing Abu Khdeir into the car, which then sped from the scene. The Palestinians tried to follow the kidnappers’ car but lost its trail when the car ran a red light at the French Hill junction, so they returned to the neighborhood to tell the family what had happened. Police worked quickly and within minutes put a trace on Abu Khdeir’s cell phone. Within 50 minutes the police arrived at a small patch of the Jerusalem forest near the neighborhood of Har Nof, where they found a slightly built, scorched body.

Two security cameras recorded the snatching. One was at the entrance to a store above the place where Abu Khdeir was sitting and the second was across the street. It’s hard to see the kidnappers’ faces on the videos, but the Palestinians were convinced that they were Jews. Both look young and athletic; one is wearing jeans and a black t-shirt and the other, shorts and a light-colored shirt. These videos, along with street cameras further along their route, were the first clues that the detectives of the Jerusalem Police’s central unit had as they set out to solve the crime.

Early Wednesday evening investigators took DNA samples from Hussein and his wife, Suha, and by 11 P.M. were able to confirm that the body was that of their son’s. An autopsy was performed the following day at the Abu Kabir Institute of Forensic Medicine. Observing the autopsy was Dr. Sabir al-Aloul, head of the Palestinian forensic institute. On Friday morning, the Palestinian attorney general released the results of the autopsy, saying that Abu Khdeir had been hit on the head and then burned to death. Signs of soot in his lungs and respiratory tract proved that he was alive when his kidnappers set him alight.

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir, the imam at Shoafat’s main mosque and a relative of the murdered teen, told Haaretz that he had never seen a body in such a bad state. “It’s lucky that I saw the boy after I gave my sermon in the mosque, otherwise it would have sounded very different,” he said. Family members prevented Abu Khdeir’s parents from seeing the body.

While the teen’s family and the Palestinian public are all convinced that the murderers were Jews seeking to avenge the murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar, and Eyal Yifrach, who were buried only hours before, a number of rumors and theories were spreading in Israeli Jewish communities regarding the circumstances of the murder. There were those who claimed that the family was involved in a dispute with another clan, or that Abu Khdeir was a homosexual and his family had murdered him. Forged documents and pictures aiming to support these theories were posted and forwarded on social media sites.

Hours after the kidnapping, Shoafat residents told investigators that there had been another abduction attempt about 20 hours before Abu Khdeir was snatched. Mussa Zhaloum, 9, was walking with his mother when he was attacked by unknown persons whom the mother said spoke Hebrew, and who fled when the mother screamed and others were about to intervene.

This seemed to provide strong evidence that the kidnap was a nationalist crime, since the Zhaloums and Abu Khdeirs are not related and there is no motive linking them. The mother and other witnesses to the earlier attempt have been summoned for questioning.

The police are investigating whether the motive for the murder could have been criminal, but no clue pointing in that direction has been unearthed thus far. The Abu Khdeir family, a well-known and respected Jerusalem family, is not known to be in dispute with anyone and there is no evidence regarding the teen’s sexual orientation.

Lacking any evidence of a criminal motive, investigators were gradually convinced that this was a murder committed for nationalist reasons. Hours before the murder, hundreds of agitated right-wing activists rampaged through central Jerusalem seeking and sometimes finding Arab victims whom they beat severely. The six suspects were undoubtedly influenced by this atmosphere and decided to take action.

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