An Arab man from northeast Jerusalem was arrested Thursday, following extensive questioning by Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) investigators, for allegedly ramming his car into two Israelis at a French Hill bus stop the previous night, killing Shalom Yohai Cherki, 25, from Jerusalem, and seriously wounding a young woman.
Police said the lengthy interrogation gave cause to believe that Khaled Koutineh, 37, from Anata, was motivated by nationalistic reasons to drive his vehicle into Cherki and Shira Klein, who is in her 20s, and remains hospitalized.
“After the suspect was questioned, the preliminary findings reinforced that the incident was an attack; however, the investigation is continuing,” police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday.
Koutineh was arraigned at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court earlier in the day, where a judge extended his remand through Monday. His lawyer, Nasser Massis, claimed that Koutineh is not a terrorist, but rather lost control of the vehicle due to inclement driving conditions.
“My client denied all involvement in criminal activity. [He] claim[s] this was a normal traffic accident that was not unreasonable given the circumstances,” Massis said. “There was heavy rainfall and the defendant believes the court will ultimately release him.”
According to Rosenfeld, the alleged attack took place shortly before midnight, when Koutineh, who is married and has no criminal record, sped his car into Cherki and Klein while they waited for a bus on Haim Bar Lev Boulevard.
Both victims were treated at the scene by Magen David Adom paramedics and rushed to Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem, where Cherki died hours later from severe head trauma.
Klein, who also sustained head wounds, has been sedated and was in stable condition at the hospital’s intensive care unit, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
Koutineh, who was lightly injured in the collision, was taken to Hadassah- University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus. After being treated, he was taken for questioning by the Shin Bet, in coordination with police, to determine whether the incident was indeed a terrorist attack.
Cherki, the son of prominent religious- Zionist Rabbi Uri Cherki, was buried on Thursday at Har Hamenuchot Cemetery, in the capital’s Givat Shaul neighborhood.
“For you, my dear son, it isn’t difficult, because your noble soul is ascending directly to the King of Peace,” his father said during the ceremony, Arutz Sheva reported.
“Not only did you merit to be among those killed for God’s Kingdom, but in your death you also saved the life of the woman who stood by your side. You had an exalted soul.
“Always, in every place you appeared, wherever there was tension, you brought peace,” the rabbi continued. “Love of God was in your every heartbeat. You loved the Torah with all your heart... You spread your shelter on everyone.”
Elisha Cohen, a cousin of Cherki, said he and others never recalled a moment when he was not smiling.
“Shalom was always smiling, and his smile was like a million dollars,” he said. “You just can’t describe him; he was someone who was just so positive. You might have not seen him for three or four years, and then when you did meet up with him again, it was like you just saw him two days ago.”
Cohen said Cherki had been very active in youth movements where he was much loved, and that he was extraordinarily welcoming to visitors and guests in his home.
“As cousins, we always knew that if we were somehow stuck in the middle of the night in Jerusalem, we could always phone the Cherki family and stay with them,” he said. “They welcome guests and hosted dozens of people every Jewish holiday.”
Cherki studied at the Yeroham Yeshiva in southern Israel, was studying for a degree in education, and was also a qualified tour guide. Ohad Thiberger, the director of the Yeroham Yeshiva, described Cherki as “a sweet man who would always greet you with a hug.”
Wednesday’s attack follows a relative lull of violence in the capital, which had included a string of car-ramming attacks over the past year, after more than 1,000 Border Police officers were dispatched in the city in an emergency measure several months ago following months of daily rioting last year.
Last month, an Arab terrorist living in the capital drove his car into four border policewomen and a male bicyclist near the Border Police headquarters. He was shot twice after brandishing a meat cleaver to attack more pedestrians upon exiting the vehicle. The suspect survived the shooting and remains in police custody.
In November, a Palestinian man from Shuafat drove his car into 13 people at the Shimon Hatzadik light-rail stop, killing Border Police officer Jidan Assad. In that incident, after crashing his vehicle, the suspect exited the car wielding a crow bar to attack more people before being shot dead.
A month earlier, a 22-year-old Ecuadorian woman was killed in Jerusalem in a vehicular terrorist attack that also took the life of three-month-old Chaya Zissel Braun and wounded seven others. The suspect, a resident of Silwan, was shot and killed by police.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.