Four Men Held for Knowing Jerusalem Attacker's Plans

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan lashed out at court's decision to release assailant's sister from custody, says it undermines fight in terror.

Soldiers walk away from the scene of a truck-ramming attack that killed four and wounded 13, January 8, 2017.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court on Monday extended the detention of four men suspected of having advance knowledge of Fadi al-Qanbar’s plans to carry out Sunday’s truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem that killed four soldiers and wounded 15 others.

The four dead – Yael Yekutiel, 20, Shir Hajaj, 22, Shira Tzur, 20, and Erez Orbach, 20 – were all buried Monday.

Those whose detention was extended for seven days are Qanbar’s two brothers, a cousin, and the owner of a construction materials business with which Qanbar worked.

But Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly refused a police request to extend the remand of Qanbar’s sister, Shadia Awisat, for seven days. Police claimed that the sister had praised her brother’s act, thus inciting to violence and terror. Nor did Lary-Bavly approve further detention of the owner of the truck that Qanbar used in the attack. Both were released from custody.

Regarding the sister, the judge said, “I’ve heard the sides, examined the evidence and found there is no suspicion that the respondent praised her brother, attacker Fadi Qanbar. The respondent did say ‘praise God’ when asked about the attack her brother carried out, but this isn’t incitement, it’s a religious expression that doesn’t indicate support for the brother.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan lashed out at Lary-Bavly’s decision to release the sister, calling it “a very bad decision.”

“It’s unbelievable that the judge didn’t see in this incitement and support for the criminal act he committed,” Erdan said “This whole wave of terror is based on inspiration to murder and terror and the glorification of murderers, and it’s sad that the judge doesn’t understand that and is undermining the fight.”

Attorney Mohammed Mahmoud, the sister’s attorney, was incensed at Erdan’s remarks. “It’s simply shocking that a minister in a democratic country should attack a judge for her decision that there is no reasonable suspicion [of incitement]. No one in the country would expect a sister to say her brother is a terrorist.”

According to information obtained by the Jerusalem Police and the Shin Bet security service, Qanbar, who lived in Jabal Mukkaber in East Jerusalem, expressed support for the fighters of ISIS several times on various forums. ISIS does not operate openly in East Jerusalem although its flag pops up there from time to time.

But for quite a while security sources have been warning that global Islamist influences are attracting young Palestinians in the city. One of the strong movements in East Jerusalem, alongside Hamas, is Hizb al-Tahrir (Freedom Party), which doesn’t champion violence but supports the return of the Islamic caliphate, much like ISIS. Security sources fear that young people may move from supporting Hizb al-Tahrir to backing ISIS.

Shira Tzur, who lived in Haifa, was posthumously promoted to second lieutenant and buried at Haifa’s military cemetery. Orbach, who had U.S. citizenship and lived in Alon Shvut, was also posthumously promoted to second lieutenant and buried in Kfar Etzion. Yekutiel, of Givatayim, was posthumously promoted to first lieutenant and buried in the Kiryat Shaul Military Cemetery. Hajaj was also posthumously promoted to first lieutenant and buried at the Mount Herzl Military Cemetery in Jerusalem.

There were no disturbances in East Jerusalem yesterday, including in Jabal Mukkaber, where Border Policeman dismantled the mourners’ tent the Qanbar family had erected in its yard. Police also closed a road in the village adjacent to Meir Nakar Street in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood to prevent stone-throwing into the neighborhood.