A bloodstain left in a forest helped the security forces find the two suspects in the ax attack Thursday that killed three Israelis and wounded four, the police say.
The two were arrested without resistance Sunday morning in Nahshonim Forest near the central city of Elad, where the attack took place. In footage released from the scene of the arrest, one of the two suspects confessed.
The police believe the pair planned the route of their assault and escape for an area they knew from their time working in the country illegally.
The investigation by the Shin Bet security service revealed that the two suspects, As’ad al-Rifa’i and Subhi Abu Shakir from the Jenin area in the West Bank, were familiar with the area. One of them left a note.
They entered Israel on Thursday evening through a breach in the separation barrier near the village of Rantis near Elad, the authorities say.
They got a ride from an Israeli, Oren Ben Yiftah, killed him when they arrived, and then killed two other men, Yonatan Havakuk and Boaz Gol. They wounded four others, using an ax and one other sharp object, the authorities say.
According to a security source, Ben Yiftah “knew very well that they were illegal, there’s no other possibility,” and he often drove other Palestinians who would spend time in Israel illegally. On Saturday, Ben Yiftah’s family called for his name to be cleared, writing that he “worked as an honest and innocent transport driver; he wasn't required to check work or residence permits.”
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The security source added that cellphone data from a conversation between the suspects and Ben Yiftah before they were picked up helped locate them. Afterward, the Shin Bet located footage of the two taken hours before the attack.
The authorities believe that the suspects’ route – through Elad’s amusement park and petting zoo – was planned ahead of time, as was their point of escape from the city: a breach in the fence around the city that leads to the nearby forest between Elad and Kibbutz Nahshonim.
After they reached the woods, the pair hid among bushes and rocks until they were found, camouflaging themselves with branches, until they were caught some 60 hours later.
Sources familiar with the manhunt said the two left their hiding place to find food in a nearby avocado orchard and to relieve themselves. A bloodstain was left by one of the two, who was believed to be injured during the attack.
After searchers passed their hiding place a number of times without seeing them, they found evidence of their location Saturday night. When the manhunt resumed at dawn Sunday, the two were found when one of them stood up and an officer and two Shin Bet agents noticed them.
The police said that lessons had been learned from the search for the six Palestinian prisoners who escaped from Gilboa Prison in September.
Hundreds of police and soldiers were stationed between Elad and the Green Line, and two helicopters and 22 drones were in the air in an attempt to convince the pair that there was no way to hide.
Although security officials did not agree on whether the two were still in Israel, the police believed that they had not reached the separation barrier into the West Bank.
The police said they had received no intelligence that the pair had returned to the West Bank; they were young and inexperienced. It was also believed that the two intended to commit another attack.
According to a senior officer, “These are two young men who didn’t have firearms, not arch-terrorists with experience in evasion. It was clear that they would be exhausted and caught, which is exactly what happened.”