Photo: Ofer Amram
Haim Habibi, main suspect in Friday's church attack
Photo: Ofer Amram
Pram used by the family to smuggle firecrackers into the church
Photo: Hagi Aharon

Police: Church attack motivated by 'personal distress'

Police concludes Habibi family carried out attack in Church of Annunciation to protest ‘personal distress;’ 20-year-old daughter says father Haim was angered by authorities decision to take away his child

An initial police probe of Friday’s attack in the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth by a Jerusalem couple and their daughter concluded that “economic distress,” and not nationalistic motives, was behind the family’s deeds.


“The father decided to sound an alarm bell that will shake the world to protest his children being taken away from him,” Superintendent Dudu Pil, the head of the investigation, said Saturday.


Layla Habibi, the 20-year-old daughter of Haim and Violet, told investigators her family decided to enter the Church of Annunciation in Nazareth to draw attention to their economic and social distress.


Haim, a Jew, his Christian wife and his daughter, entered the church disguised as pilgrims, hiding firecrackers and gas canisters in a pram. The trio fired the crackers inside the holy site, prompting a scuffle with worshipers and drawing thousands of Arab residents to the Church’s court.


In a three-hour standoff, police locked the family in a small room inside the compound to protect them from angry protesters and lead them away through a back alley disguised as policemen.


Haim and Violet have refused to cooperate with the police.


The daughter told police her father planned the attack to protest a decision by the welfare authorities to put three of his children under state custody. The father said the attack at the much-revered church will prompt the state to reconsider its decision and return his children.


The family stayed at a Tel Aviv hotel the night before the attack and traveled to Nazareth on Friday morning. The father had bought firecrackers and gas canisters which he hid in his son’s pram.


“The mother, who’s a Christian, knew that Friday’s Lent prayers – the first Friday before Easter - are important in the Christian calendar and so it was decided to carry out the attack their to express their rage. They sought they would have their child back,” Superintendent Pil said.


Family known to police


The Jerusalem Municipality said a social worker in charge of the Habibis has been under police protection after receiving threats from Haim.


“The welfare authorities continue to look after the family despite reports that they are collecting donations in the center,” a Jerusalem Municipality spokesperson said.


“The couple has been given state accommodation in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem. The welfare authorities in Jerusalem proposed temporary accommodation in a hotel and allowances. They turned the offer down and refused to speak to authorities,” the spokesperson said.


On Saturday evening, police will ask the Nazareth Magistrates Court to extend the remand of the couple and their daughter.


“We can confirm that they are not right-wing activists who acted on ideological beliefs,” police said.


Muslim and Christian community leaders across Israel’s Arab sector have organized a march at 3:00 p.m. in Nazareth to protest the attack.


פרסום ראשון: 03.04.06, 12:36
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