East Jerusalem Man Acquitted of Planning Bombing in Eilat Because of Mistaken Identification

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Khalil Nimri in court in Be'er Sheva on Nov. 9, 2017.
Khalil Nimri in court in Be'er Sheva on Nov. 9, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Be’er Sheva District Court acquitted on Thursday an Israeli citizen from East Jerusalem, Khalil Nimri, of planning a terrorist attack in Eilat two years ago. The three-judge panel unanimously ordered Nimri, 22, freed on grounds of a reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

The court ordered Nimri freed immediately, but the court accepted the prosecution’s request to delay his release for 72 hours so prosecutors could consider filing an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Nimri was arrested in November 2015. He and another man, Ashraf Salaima, now 25, were indicted for allegedly planning to bomb the Rio Hotel in Eilat.

The two met while working together at a hotel in Red Sea city. They were accused of deciding to take action in the context of the wave of Palestinian violence at the time.

Nimri supposedly wanted to take revenge for a friend of his who was killed after stabbing a Jewish youth in Jerusalem in November. According to the indictment, Nimri initially suggested stabbing a religious Jew, but Salaima objected on the grounds that they would be caught.

They subsequently decided to bomb the hotel. The indictment charges them with doing surveillance of the hotel, following a group of religious Jews and searching the Internet for instructions about the preparation of a bomb to blow up a group of religious Jews.

Khalil Nimri's family in court in Be'er Sheva, Nov. 9, 2017.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Nimri was arrested after he aroused the suspicion of a hotel clerk, who identified him as the man who pretended to be a potential guest, asked suspicious questions about hotel guests, entry and exits to and from the hotel and asked to see hotel rooms. These suspicions were reported to the police, who subsequently arrested Nimri.

A few days later the clerk saw Salaima and realized he had made a mistake in identity and informed the police. Salaima was also arrested, but in the meantime Nimri confessed to planning the bombing during questioning by the Shin Bet security service.

The testimony of the hotel clerk and Nimri’s answers during questioning led Shin Bet investigators to suspect that Nimri had a partner in planning the attack. Salaima also said Nimri was involved in planning the attack, and both were indicted. The charges against Nimri were based almost exclusively on his confession and Salaima’s testimony.

Nimri’s lawyer claimed that his confession was untrue and included details planted by investigators to match their findings – but were later discovered to be mistaken.

Judge Ariel Vago, who headed the panel, along with judges Ariel Hazak and Aylon Infeld, ruled that after going over the evidence they reached the conclusion that even given that the defendant’s confession and Salaima’s evidence were admissible, there was still not enough evidence in total to prove Nimri’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Because of the long time he was held in jail since his arrest, the judges decided to release him as soon as possible, even before finishing writing their detailed ruling.