Sudanese Assailant Was Emotionally Unstable, Not on Medication, Says Asylum Seekers' NGO

Police investigating deadly stabbing attack in Ashkelon as terror attack as asylum seekers' representatives condemn the incident.

Almog Ben Zikri
Ilan Lior
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The scene of the Ashkelon stabbing attack, Feb. 7, 2016.
The scene of the Ashkelon stabbing attack, Feb. 7, 2016.Credit: Ilan Assayag
Almog Ben Zikri
Ilan Lior

The Bnai Darfur organization, which represents asylum seekers from Darfur in Israel, said that acquaintances of Jamal Hassan, 32, who stabbed a soldier near the central bus station in Ashkelon on Sunday, related that his emotional state had recently deteriorated, and that he didn’t receive the medical treatment he needed.

“This criminal act is unacceptable to us,” the organization said in a statement, adding that it doesn’t believe this was a terror attack. “Asylum seekers don’t constitute a security threat. We stand alongside the people of Israel and encourage the security forces to take all necessary steps to provide security to all the residents of the Land of Israel.”

Hassan, a Sudanese national, stabbed and lightly wounded an Israel Defense Forces soldier near the Ashkelon central bus station Sunday and was shot to death by another soldier when he tried to flee. 

The assailant lived in Ashkelon. He had been admitted to the Holot detention facility in April 2014, but left a month later and never returned.  

Police say the incident was being treated as a terror attack. “We are almost certain of this,” a police commander added, noting the stabber and his victim were not acquainted and did not exchange words before the attack. If so, it would be the first time an asylum-seeker was involved in a terror attack. 

After the soldier was stabbed, another soldier grabbed the victim’s weapon and chased down Hassan. Nissim Rubin, who was at the scene of the attack, said that when he realized what had happened he picked up the second soldier in his car and took off after the suspect. 

Rubin said that when they located him, the soldier got out of the car and called on the suspect to halt. When he did not, the soldier shot at him but missed. According to Rubin, at a certain point the stabber turned and approached the soldier, as if he planned to try to grab his weapon. The soldier again called on the suspect to halt, and when he didn’t, shot him and wounded him. Shortly afterward Hassan died of his wounds.

Mutasim Ali, a leader of asylum seeker community in Israel who is himself from Sudan, condemned the attack. 

“This is very serious if it's someone from our community.  We roundly condemn it. It's not representative," he said. "Our community will never constitute a danger to the State of Israel or to Israelis," he added.

As of the end of 2015, there were 8,353 Sudanese nationals in Israel, the Population and Immigration Authority reported, constituting about 19 percent of all asylum seekers in the country. Most of the Sudanese in Israel are Arabic-speaking Muslims. Many are refugees from Darfur, where the army and government militias have slaughtered hundreds of thousands of people.

Israel does not expel Sudanese nationals and provides them with temporary resident visas. The Israeli government has stated in court that its policy of not expelling Sudanese asylum seekers was the result of the lack of diplomatic relations with Sudan.

With the opening of the Holot detention center in the south of Israel in December 2013, the population authority has summoned mostly Sudanese nationals in Israel to the isolated center in the Negev, prompting 3,676 of them to leave the country in 2014 and another 600 to leave last year. The Sudanese who left over the two-year period represent about a third of all Sudanese who were living in Israel.