Nation & World

Israel declares slain Arab teen ‘victim of terrorism’ as it indicts 3 in his death

Israeli authorities on Thursday formally charged three Jewish suspects with kidnapping and burning to death a Palestinian teenager in revenge for the abduction and slaying of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

The indictment revealed details of the killing that previously had been withheld under a gag order. It called the killing “cold-blooded” and said it took place after the suspects conducted a “manhunt” for a victim in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The charred body of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, 16, was found in a wooded area on July 2 after he was forced into a car in his neighborhood of Shuafat in East Jerusalem.

His death set off days of rioting in East Jerusalem neighborhoods and in Israeli Arab towns, where youths faced off against police, burning tires and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails.

The Israeli Defense Ministry announced Thursday that it would recognize Abu Khdeir as a “victim of terrorism,” entitling his family to a monthly government stipend. The payments are routinely made to families of Israelis killed in Palestinian attacks.

The suspects, a 29 year old and two age 16, were described in the indictment as an optical shop owner who lives in Adam, a West Bank settlement near Jerusalem, and two of his relatives who are ultra-Orthodox Jews, one of whom studies in a yeshiva, or religious seminary, and another who dropped out of yeshiva studies.

The indictment did not name the adult suspect, a departure from usual Israeli practice. A judge ordered that the suspect’s name be released, but then stayed the order so that the suspect’s lawyer could challenge it. The lawyer has argued that the suspect’s life would be in danger if his identity were known.

The indictment said the older suspect and one of the younger ones have obsessive compulsive disorders and are on psychiatric medications.

According to the indictment, the suspects resolved to avenge the kidnapping and slaying last month of the three Israeli teenagers _ Eyal Yifrah, 19, Naftali Fraenkel,16, and Gil-Ad Shaer, 16 _ who were abducted as they hitched a ride home from their religious schools in the West Bank. Their bodies were found on June 30, 18 days after their disappearance.

Israeli authorities have named two Palestinian suspects in the killings, but they have not been found. Their families were notified this week by the army that their homes in the West Bank city of Hebron are to be demolished.

The indictment says that a day before killing Abu Khdeir, the suspects tried to kidnap a 7-year-old Palestinian boy in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. After riding through the neighborhood and looking for possible targets, one suspect got out of the group’s car, grabbed the boy in a chokehold and tried to drag him to the vehicle, but the boy’s mother screamed and struggled with the attacker, who beat her and fled.

The suspects then made an unsuccessful attempt to set two cars on fire in another Arab neighborhood but sped off after they were spotted by residents, according to the charges.

After the funeral of the slain Israeli teens on July 1, the suspects prepared for the abduction by buying plastic handcuffs and filling bottles with gasoline at a service station, according to the indictment. Later, to mask their identities, the two younger suspects changed out of clothes identifying them as Orthodox Jews and removed their skullcaps.

After midnight, they drove for three hours in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem in search of someone they could easily overpower and shove into their car. Fortified by energy drinks and cigarettes bought to lift their spirits after futile attempts to find a victim, the suspects eventually spotted Abu Khdeir.

After a brief conversation to make sure he was Arab, the suspects beat and dragged the teenager into the car, covering his mouth to stifle his screams, according to the charges.

“The victim tried to resist with all his might, and put his foot in the car doorway, preventing the accused from closing it,” the indictment says. After the door was shut and the car sped away, two of the suspects struggled with Abu Khdeir in the back seat, choking him until he lost consciousness, according to the charges.

After they reached the wooded area, one of the suspects hit the unconscious Abu Khdeir twice in the head with a lug wrench and then kicked him three times, saying, “This if for Eyal, this is for Gil-Ad, this is for Naftali,” the names of the three slain Israeli teens. Two suspects then doused the Arab youth with gasoline and set him on fire, according to the indictment.

After cleaning the back seat of the car, two of the assailants returned at dawn to the home of the older suspect in Adam, where, the indictment says, “they played guitars and went to sleep.”