Police have uncovered a Palestinian cell responsible for the murder of American tourist Kristine Luken and the attempted murder of tour guide Kaye Susan Wilson in a forest near Jerusalem last month, it was cleared for publication Wednesday.
The 13 cell members are also suspected of committing 21 different crimes between 1997 and 2010.
Forces search for Kristine Luken (Photo: Ohad Zwigenberg)
"We see how this cell developed into a nationalistically-motivated cell," Jerusalem District Commander Aharon Franco said Wednesday.
Jerusalem District Court Judge Amnon Cohen extended the suspect's remand by three weeks to allow the lawyers to study the material. The prosecution's representative, Attorney Joey Ash, said that the case was based on the suspects' admission and reenactments.
According to the police, the Palestinian cell members are suspected of two murder cases, two attempted murders, seven robberies and seven house burglaries. Eight members have been arrested so far, and four of them – Iyad Patpata of Tarqumiya, Kifah Ghanimat, Muhammad Ghanimat and another man from the village of Surif – were indicted Wednesday morning at the Jerusalem District Court.
Police officials noted that the four other members would be indicted soon, after the completion of the evidence gathering. Sources involved in the investigation expressed their hope that they would be able to put their hands on the remaining five cell members, who live in the territories.
Four of the suspects were arrested in a joint police, Shin Bet and Israel Defense Forces operation.
'Wilson's testimony was crucial'
The police noted that the cell was uncovered following the murder of Luken and the attempted murder of her friend Wilson. The tour guide, who was found in serious condition after being stabbed near Moshav Mata in the Beit Shemesh area, said that she and her friend had taken a tour of the wadi when they were suddenly attacked by two young Arab men.
She said she managed to escape after pretending to be dead and did not know what happened to her friend.
Wilson was dubbed a "hero" by the Shin Bet investigators for remaining calm through the ordeal from the moment she realized that the two Palestinians were trying to hurt her and her friend.
The investigators noted that as soon as Wilson spotted the two men approaching her, she told her friend, "They have a plan," and tried to convince them that she and her friend were not Jewish.
She even told Luken that she would stage an epilepsy attack in a bid to scare the two Palestinians. Wilson, who was holding a penknife, managed to stab one of the attackers, and his blood stains, which were used for a DNA sample, were one of the main factors which helped solve the case.
After realizing that her friend was in critical condition, Wilson played dead and managed to trick the Palestinians into believing that she was no longer alive. She walked away from the site barefoot, with hear hands tied, and in serious condition.
"I tried to get up three times and fell down, I deviated from the path and couldn't find my way, and it was very difficult for me to breathe, but I had to make a switch in my head and think positive," she told the investigators.
After the murder, the Shin Bet appointed a special investigation team. Three of the suspects were arrested the next day thanks to the findings and the description provided by Wilson.
The Jerusalem Police commander lauded Wilson on Wednesday, saying that "the details she provided were crucial."
The three confessed to Luken's murder, as well as to the murder of Neta Sorek of Zichron Yaacov, whose body was found last February near the Beit Jamal Monastery outside Jerusalem. At first the police thought Sorek had committed suicide, but later came to the conclusion that she had been murdered.
The suspicion was confirmed in the investigation of the three cell members. Kifah Ghanimat's DNA marched the findings from the murder scene. He confessed to the act, framing another suspect from the village of Surif, who was arrested that same night and confessed as well.
'We wanted to murder Jews'
Kifah Ghanimat told his investigators that he had also tried to murder two Jews in Beit Shemesh last February to avenge Mabhouh's assassination.
The investigation led to the arrest of four other cell members from the villages of Tarqumiya and Surif. "We wanted to murder Jews," they told the police.
The Shin Bet investigators noted that the two Palestinians arrested in the affair, as well as a third one – Ibrahim Ghanimat – who confessed to the murder of Neta Sorek in February 2010, used an area where there is no security fence to enter Israel from the territories.
According to the Shin Bet, the knives found in the murder scene and the fact that they did not take any of the two women's equipment prove that the cell has planned a cruel massacre and not a robbery.
The cell members are also suspected of breaking into homes and stealing cars. According to the police, the burglaries were aimed at stealing weapons, as several guns were found in the suspects' possession.
The men are suspected of 15 crimes committed within the Jerusalem district, five in the Judea and Samaria District and one in central Israel. They are also suspected of raping a Jewish woman one of them had met in July 2009.
The investigators are checking whether the cell members are linked to additional murder cases and crimes which took place in the Jerusalem area in recent years and have yet to be solved.
Attorney Michael Decker, who is representing Kristine Luken's parents, Larry and Meg, arrived at the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday morning and told Ynet: "As far as I know, Luken was murdered in a terrorist act. The family was not informed about the investigation and received no cooperation from the police. The family wanted the police to cooperate with them, but they refused and would not even hand over the autopsy report.
"The family is pleased that there are suspects and indictments and would like to receive details and information on the incident. The family doesn't know whether Kristine suffered during the murder. The family is currently in the United States and has no plans to visit Israel at this stage."
Hanan Greenberg and Aviad Glickman contributed to this report
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