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Police chief urges patience over Umm al-Hiran investigation
Amid reports that the investigation is expected to conclude that the incident, in which a Bedouin man and Israeli officer were killed, will not be classified as a terror attack, Roni Alsheikh denies decision has yet been reached: ‘We’ll refrain from addressing the issue before the end of the investigation.’

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh addressed reports Wednesday which indicate that the incident in Umm al-Hiran last month—in which a Bedouin man who police say tried to run over soldiers with his car was shot dead—will not be classified as a terror attack.

 

 

"I can't be responsible for any unofficial publications. I do know with certainty, from the head of the Police Investigations Unit, that conclusions have yet to be reached," he told Ynet.

 

"The investigation is underway, and therefore, we will uphold the law, unlike others, and refrain from addressing the issue before the end of the investigation."

 

Roni Alsheikh (Photo: Daniel Elior) (Photo: Daniel Elior)
Roni Alsheikh (Photo: Daniel Elior)

 

“What we knew after the initial report, we told the public. When conclusions are reached, we will address those conclusions," he insisted.

 

"At the end of the day, we need to judge our officers based on what can be understood of that point in time. I don't know any other details from is known of the incident. When we do, we will address. We, as police, do not offer comments before the investigation ends. And that is what we will continue to do with no regard to attempted manipulations."

 

The comments come one day after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that authorities and the public should be more cautious in their choice of language when describing suspected terror attacks—particularly those over which confusion persists.

 

Speaking in reference to the Umm al-Hiran incident, Erdan urged that instead of liberally adopting the term "terror attack," people use the phrase "one-time incident."

 

He also said that rather than immediately resorting to the word "terrorist," some suspected terrorists should be described as "civilian." 

 

Umm al-Hiran incident

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During a visit to the south, Erdan stated that the incident and labels common in the public discourse should not sour relations with the Bedouin community.

 

"We had a difficult, unfortunate incident a few weeks ago in Umm al-Hiran, and it shouldn't overshadow our relations. No one should be allowed to take this one-time incident, in which unfortunately both a police officer and a civilian were killed, and use it to project on the entire relations between the Bedouin population and Israel's police and government,” he said in an apparent mea culpa.

 

Sgt. Erez Levi, the Umm al-Hiran incident
Sgt. Erez Levi, the Umm al-Hiran incident

 

"Once the Police Investigation Unit wraps up its investigation, we should draw our conclusions and take it from there. We should strengthen our relations with the dear Bedouin population, with whom we wish to live in peaceful coexistence in the Negev," said Erdan.

 

The incident occurred on January 18, when a police force arrived on scene to secure illegal home demolitions in the village.

 

During the operation, a vehicle approached the police force, which roused the officers' suspicion. They opened fire, injuring the driver, who then sped up in his vehicle and ran over and killed Sgt. Erez Levi, 34, who was on the task force. The driver, 47-year-old Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan, died later of his wounds.

 

Gilad Erdan (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky) (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)
Gilad Erdan (Photo: Alex Kolomoisky)

 

Police claimed after the incident that the vehicle was speeding without lights, and that they fired warning shots at first.

 

A short while after the incident, prior to any orderly investigation, police and Erdan rushed to label it as a "terror attack" and the driver, "as a terrorist."

 

An hour after the incident, police announced that "the terrorist is an active member of the Islamic Movement and his affiliation to ISIS is being examined." The Shin Bet, on the other hand, stated that no affiliation could be found linking him with the terror organization. 

 

Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan's vehicle (Photo: Police Spokesperson's Office)
Yaqoub Abu al-Qiyan's vehicle (Photo: Police Spokesperson's Office)

 

The family of the driver, who was a teacher and father of 15, claimed from the very first moment that he was an honest man, and that he was "murdered in cold blood."

 

According to the family, "he had already packed his belongings and was planning to evacuate his home without a fuss."

 

As time passed, the version of the police and the Interior Ministry began to crumble. Al Jazeera exposed footage which appeared to show that al-Qiyan had his lights on, which contradicted the police officers' statement.

 

A video that aired on Channel 10 news allegedly validated the claim that the shooting toward al-Qiyan occurred prior to his speeding toward the officers, thus rebutting another one of the officers' claims.

 

The police had stated earlier that "the vehicle was speeding in an unmistakable manner, hitting the officers. A vehicle careening toward police officers has an intention to kill."

 

The driver's cousin criticized the police's conduct: "Erdan was quick to respond, perhaps since the Police Commissioner or the commander on site misled him. Erdan wasn't around and received misleading reports. Two innocent people were killed in this incident, and someone has to pay the price—the minister, the commissioner or the on-site commander."

 

The findings from the ongoing investigation eventually revealed that the incident was probably not a terror attack, and that there were serious operational failures in the police officers' conduct.

 

Investigators conmcluded that the warning shots toward the vehicles were premature, and the police officers' fire was disproportionate, which could have incurred multiple injuries among their own forces as they failed to take into account the officers' location.

 

Violent clashes in Umm al-Hiran (Photo: Reuters)
Violent clashes in Umm al-Hiran (Photo: Reuters)

 

The officers who opened fire insisted however that they felt threatened, and that they interpreted the situation at the time as one of dangerous.

 

Investigators noted that it was dark, which made identifying the location of other police forces and possible threats in the area much more difficult.

 

They also pointed out that Sgt. Erez Levi, was killed as a result of being run over by Abu al-Qiyan's vehicle and not as a result of gunshots.

 

Despite the evidence, which has yet to be officially released, the Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh addressed the reports that the incident will not be classified as a terror attack.

 

"I can't be responsible for any unofficial publications. I do know with certainty, from the head of the Police Investigations Unit, that conclusions have yet to be reached," he told Ynet.

 

"The investigation is underway, and therefore, we will uphold the law, unlike others, and refrain from addressing the issue before the end of the investigation."

 

The final results are expected to be released shortly, following the analysis of various ballistic tests.

 


First published: 22.02.17, 12:30
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