The Israel Police did not send to a forensic examination a child's underpants that were found near the apartment where a seven-year-old is said to have been raped in a West Bank settlement, sources familiar with the police investigation told Haaretz on Tuesday.
The girl told investigators that the underpants belonged to her, and had an examination taken place police could have determined that it did, adding to evidence material in the probe. Such an examination could also have helped police trace DNA of the suspect, the sources added.
On Monday, the Palestinian suspect was charged with kidnapping and raping the Israeli girl, whom he met at the school where he was employed as a maintenance worker.
The defendant, Mahmoud Qatusa, is a resident of the West Bank village of Deir Qadis. He worked at an Israeli school in the Mateh Binyamin region in the central West Bank. According to the indictment, he developed a relationship with the child over an extended period, engaging her in conversation and giving her candy.
Police explained that they decided not to send the underpants to a forensic examination because the complaint on the rape was filed "more than a week after the incident took place."
Nonetheless, a senior police official told Haaretz that normally, all items and evidence linked to sexual offenses are sent to an examination, even if the chances are low for any findings to be located.
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Forensic investigators were unable to trace the child's DNA at the apartment where the indictment alleges that the rape took place. A former police official explained that it is possible that no findings could be traced at the crime scene, but that regularly this is not the case.
Police change version
A witness for the prosecution who is close to the suspect and lives in the settlement where the assault is said to have taken place told Haaretz on Tuesday that police changed their claims regarding the location of the rape after the suspect's alibi was verified.
The witness who spoke to Haaretz, identified as M., said that he he had personally verified Qatusa's alibi and informed investigators. A source familiar with the investigation said that police changed their claims about the time when the rape took place in light of the alibi.
The police originally claimed that the rape took place on a Friday, after school hours, and mentioned a specific time during the deposition made by the military prosecutor at the beginning of the month.
Police claimed that Qatusa took the girl to his home in Deir Qadis, where he raped her. However, Qatusa claimed at the hearing that he was doing renovation work at a different location and asked that M. verify his alibi. The latter proceeded to do so during the hearing, and informed the police.
“Instead of the police checking the alibi, I had to do it,” M. said. The police independently verified the alibi later on.
After the alibi was confirmed, the police altered their claim about where the rape took place – from Qatusa's home to an apartment a few hundred meters from the school – said M., who lives in the settlement where the rape took place.
Following the confirmation of the alibi, police also told Qatusa that the rape had taken place on a different date, for which he did not have a verified alibi, according to an informed source. The indictment does not mention the precise date or hour when the rape took place, only that it was committed between February and April.
In the police's new version of events, the apartment where the rape took place is at least a 10-minute walk from the school, and along the way passes through crowded main streets of the ultra-Orthodox settlement. The police claim that Qatusa had access to the apartment because he was doing renovations there.
His attorney, Nashef Darwish, said: “There is a total absence of logic here. How is it possible that an Arab guy in the heart of an ultra-Orthodox settlement could drag a seven-year-old girl from her school to another house that’s a 20-minute walk away, and nobody would notice? An Arab with a seven-year-old girl in the middle of a Haredi settlement – it sounds very strange.”
M. Said that Qatusa was “a very familiar figure in the city, who has been working here for the past eight or nine years." He added that the suspect regularly came in after hours to make necessary repairs. "They’ve caught the wrong person here and I’m crying out against it," he said.
“There are millions of question marks here,” he said. “This is a man with three children who are studying at university, a man who is financially stable, who when he saw an Arab worker making a mistake, would shout at him for endangering his livelihood."
“In other words," M. said, "he understood the law well. So do you want to tell me that this man dragged a seven-year-old girl for 20 minutes to a second-floor apartment and raped her there with a few other Arabs?"
"If it is him, he has to be judged severely, but this is not the man,” M. added.
The girl testified four times in front of child investigators, who are expected to testify in the case. A discussion will be held later Tuesday at the Ofer Military Court about the request by the military prosecution to impose a comprehensive gag order on all the details of the case.
Sources involved in the investigation said on Monday that there is no evidence that the motive for the act was nationalistic. According to these sources, the police did not turn to the Shin Bet security service because there was no such suspicion, and the Shin Bet is not expected to intervene in the investigation, even after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked them to do so.