Gunman Behind Be'er Sheva Shooting Attack Identified as Bedouin Man

Israeli soldier was killed and 11 people were wounded in Sunday's attack; Eritrean asylum seeker, who was shot after being mistaken for terrorist, dies of wounds.

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Be'er Sheva's Central Bus Station, a day after the shooting attack. October 19, 2015.
Be'er Sheva's Central Bus Station, a day after the shooting attack. October 19, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The gunman behind the shooting attack in Be'er Sheva on Sunday was a 21-year-old Bedouin man, police said on Monday after a gag order was lifted.

An Israeli soldier, identified as 19-year-old Sgt. Omri Levy from Sdei Hemed, was killed and 11 others were wounded in the attack inside the city's central bus station. One victim is said to be in critical condition, and another two suffered serious wounds.

An asylum seeker was also killed in the attack. He was identified as Habtom Zarhum, 29, of Eritrea. A security guard apparently mistook him for the terrorist, and he was beaten by passersby. He later died of his wounds.

Police identified the attacker as Muhannad al-Okbi, an Israeli citizen, from a Bedouin community near the Negev town of Hura. Al-Okbi was carrying a gun and a knife. He stole the dead soldier's weapon and started shooting it. He did not use the knife during the attack.

The Shin Bet security service said that al-Okbi's mother, who is originally from the Gaza Strip, moved to Israel after she married an Israeli citizen. He had no prior criminal record. Police forces, SWAT teams, and the Shin Bet overnight arrested a member of his family who is suspected of involvement in the attack.

The forum of Negev Bedouin council leaders announced that they "condemn in the sharpest terms this criminal act" during an emergency meeting on in Rahat on Monday.

"The terrorist who committed this act does not represent any Bedouin residents, who favor coexistence and living together in the Negev," the forum announced in a formal statement. "We again express our horror by the fact that the terrorist came from the community, and roundly denunciate his actions. We call on Negev residents, one and all, to act with restraint and to maintain good neighborly relations, which characterize our joint lives."

The head of the Hura council, Dr. Muhammad al-Nabari also categorically condemned the terror attack, echoing similar language. "In addition, we seek to clarify that contrary to news reports, the terrorist who carried out the attack is not a resident of Hura at all." He stressed "the fact that it is impossible to be both a terrorist and a citizen of the country," adding "these two things are diametrically opposed."

Habtom Zarhum had traveled to Be'er Sheva to renew his work permit, according to Sagi Malachi, CEO of the Shorashim garden center in Moshav Ein Habasor, where Zarhum had worked the past year.

Zarhum is captured in videos at the scene being attacked by the people around him, including a soldier, after being shot. People are seen kicking him, throwing a bench at him and pinning him to the ground with a chair. Some of the witnesses made efforts to stop the attackers.

"We are sad and hurt over his shocking death of Mila, and are now making arrangements to provide emotional support for his friends at work with the assistance of the council's trauma center," said Malachi, using Zarhum's nickname. He described him as a dedicated worker, beloved by his colleagues and an affable person.

Al-Okbi was the oldest in his family, and he was single. Acquaintances said that he had tried to immigrate to Canada, but did not get a visa. He was extremely disappointed and it put him in a tough mental state.

Family members told Haaretz that the night before he took a bus from Hura Central Bus Station in Be'er Sheva. Last night, his father, Khalil al-Okbi, couldn't find him. He was worried, and contacted police and Soroka Hospital. It was only overnight, when police forces arrived at his home and confiscated a computer and personal equipment, when al-Okbi found out his son was the terrorist.

Southern District Police chief Yoram Halevy met with southern Bedouin leaders Monday. "In my community in the south, we promote coexistence and live in peace together, Jews and Bedouins," Halevy said. "Bedouins serve in the army and police and help maintain state security... We cannot write off an entire people because of the acts of one person."

The bus station is a closed compound with security guards posted at the entrances. It is unclear how the gunman managed to get past the guards.

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