Two men were indicted Wednesday for the arson attack on the landmark Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee, five weeks ago.
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The principal defendant, Yinon Reuveni, 20, was charged in Nazareth District Court with setting fire to the church for racist motives. His co-defendant, Yehuda Asraf, 19, was charged with assisting him and providing the car used to carry out the crime. The church stands on site where Christians believe Jesus handed out the loaves and fishes, and is home to renowned, striking mosaics.
The indictment says Reuveni had conspired with other people, apart from Asraf, to set fire to the church. The motive was Reuveni’s hatred for Christianity. “Reuveni has extremist views. He sees Christians as idol worshippers and their destruction as a mitzvah,” the charges sheet says.
On the evening of June 17, Reuveni and Asraf went to a gas station at Latrun, near Modi’in, and filled bottles with gasoline, the indictment continues. Carrying gloves, matches and a lighter as well as the gasoline, they drove north to the church. Seeing cameras at the church entrance, the pair left the car outside the back gate.
They allegedly entered the church at about 3 A.M. and poured gasoline on the door of the living quarters. They also poured a trail of gasoline leading to the adjacent courtyard, where they set the fire.
They also sprayed anti-Christian graffiti in Hebrew, such as “False idols will be smashed” on the church wall, near a door that was burned down, before fleeing the site.
Two people, the church director and a young volunteer, were lightly hurt from smoke inhalation. The fire caused serious damage to the church structure, roof, reception room, storeroom, the nuns’ office and the gift shop. Hundreds of books were burned.
The Subaru car the defendants used was filmed by a security camera near the church. Police found gloves with Reuveni’s DNA on them some five kilometers away from the church. Reuveni was also filmed at the Latrun gas station pumping gasoline into a 2-liter bottle, which was later found at the arson scene.
The prosecution asked the court to extend the defendants’ custody until the end of legal proceedings, due to the gravity of the charges. The indictment also says the defendants remained silent during their interrogation, which the Supreme Court has ruled renders suspects and defendants a greater threat if released on bail.
Reuveni was charged with hindering the police’s work for trying trying to escape from his kitchen window when police officers came to arrest him. Asraf’s lawyer said his client had nothing to do with the arson.