A police raid of a suspected drug house in a Rahat neighborhood Wednesday ended in the death of local resident Sami al-Ajar, 22.
Three police officers were lightly wounded. The city, which is predominately Bedouin, declared a local strike during three days of mourning in protest of the death, which relatives say was the result of police gunfire.
Mayor Talal al-Kirnawi said al-Ajar was shot in the house’s yard in front of his mother, but the Police Internal Investigations Department said they were still looking into the incident. Police emphasized that the circumstances of the death are still unclear. According to police, the individuals involved are completely cooperating with investigators.
The police action created a chaotic scene. Two suspects were arrested, after which officers were attacked by a crowd and pelted with stones. The officers said they fired into the air to escape.
Maj. Gen. Yoram Halevy, the commander of the Southern District, set up a situational evaluation, which resulted in a decision that investigation of the incident would be under the jurisdiction of the central unit in the Negev precinct. At the end of the meeting, the commander of the Negev precinct, Brig. Gen. Amnon Alkalay, with the mayor and his staff.
Al-Kirnawi said he welcomed the action against the drug trade, but told Ynet that “this young man returned from work and was shot. His father complained to police in the fact about young people coming there and selling drugs and requested that they be dealt with.
"It’s possible that they were trigger-happy. We will demand answers. We’ll go to the police commissioner and the attorney general with a demand they investigate the incident to the end.”
Police expressed concern that the incident could worsen relations with residents of Rahat, and that it could lead to further violence. “The police will have zero tolerance towards anyone using violence against police officers doing their job,” said Brig. Gen. Alkalay.
In the mourning tent created near the site of the incident, relatives harshly criticized the police and claimed shooting occurred first towards the victim and only later into the air. They said al-Ajar was returning home from work and had nothing to do with the drug house.
“He was murdered in cold blood by the police,” said a family member. “Only afterwards did they fire into the air. I’m amazed more people weren’t wounded. There were children and women here. They treat us like animals, and they are trigger-happy. This is a family that contributed to the country. The murdered man’s uncle fell in the Yom Kippur War. His grandfather was handicapped in his IDF service.”
Another family member said she witnessed the shooting. “I saw him bend over and hold his stomach. At first I thought his foot was hurt. And then they started shooting in the air,” she said.
A police source denied the claim, saying the officers were “brutally attacked” and were protecting the arrested individuals with their bodies.