Police questioned a mayor on Sunday on suspicion of involvement in two murders in Jerusalem 30 years ago.
Police suspect that the mayor was a member of the sect at the time of the murders, when he was still a teenager. They also think he was close to the chief suspects in the case and may even have been directly involved in the murders.
The mayor has been arrested and is slated to be brought for a bail hearing on Monday. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit approved his interrogation.
On Sunday, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Berland held without bail for another eight days. During the hearing, a police officer said the suspicions against the rabbi have intensified, and evidence against him will be presented in the next few days.
Aside from Berland and the mayor, five other people have been arrested in the case, including Berland’s wife. Another man has been questioned but not arrested.
The cases in question are the kidnapping and murder of Nissim Shitrit, an ultra-Orthodox boy of 17 who disappeared in 1986, and the 1990 murder of Avraham Edri, a 41-year-old resident of Jerusalem. At Sunday’s court hearing, police said the Shitrit investigation is almost finished, but the Edri investigation is still at its height.
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The arrest of several suspects over the past month stems in part from an investigative report by Kan, the public broadcaster, two years ago. In that report, journalist Shani Haziza presented evidence indicating that Shuvu Banim’s “modesty patrol” was behind Shitrit’s disappearance and murder. This contradicted the police’s main line of inquiry immediately after the disappearance, which was that he had run afoul of a drug dealer.
Haziza’s evidence included a conversation between Shitrit’s brother and Zvi Zucker, who is Berland’s son-in-law and headed the modesty patrol at the relevant time. In that conversation, Zucker said he knew Shitrit was no longer alive, knew who the murderer was and knew the general area where the body had been buried.
Another turning point in the case came when a woman suspected of involvement in Shitrit’s disappearance decided to cooperate with investigators and revealed that members of Berland’s community had used her as bait to uncover sexual “transgressors.”
One of the arrested men is suspected of having given the order to make Shitrit disappear after the teenager refused to withdraw a police complaint against members of the modesty patrol for beating him up a few months earlier. The beating was administered because they believed he’d had premarital sexual relations with women. The suspect has denied the charges.
A few years later, the modesty patrol also suspected Edri of illicit relations with a woman. He was murdered shortly thereafter.
Three other people are suspected of direct involvement in the murders, and all have refused to cooperate with investigators. Police have also questioned other people close to Berland, including a businessman who was particularly close to him.