IDF soldier who shot a neutralized Palestinian terrorist in Hebron being led into court, March 29, 2016.
(photo credit: NOAM AMIR)
The IDF Appeals Court late Tuesday released the soldier suspected of manslaughter in the killing of an already immobilized Palestinian terrorist to open detention on an army base.
The decision, which was a blow for the IDF prosecution, came after it was revealed that an IDF platoon commander present at the scene of the Hebron shooting expressed concerned that Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, though wounded, might have been wearing an explosives vest.
The commander’s testimony could potentially substantiate the soldier’s claims that he shot al-Sharif because he feared that he might be wearing such a vest.
In a stunning statement by Appeals Court Judge Brig.-Gen. Doron Filis, he wrote, “Even if the soldier made a mistake, a mistake regarding which he should have acted differently – to alert his commanders – to warn in a more accelerated manner those nearby that they should move [rather than shooting the Palestinian attacker]… However, the level of criminality of his actions would be much lower than how the prosecution has defined them.”
Another dramatic moment came with the revelation that the soldier while interrogated said, “If the terrorist had a suicide belt, I’d be dead now.”
The IDF prosecution is expected to file an indictment against the solider for manslaughter next week, since Filis’s decision technically only related to detention issues and not the merits of the accusations.
However, the statement by Filis came after an unusually extensive summary of the evidence and could foreshadow a much harder case than was originally anticipated.
Filis listed several individuals, most importantly the platoon commander, who also suspected an explosive vest could be in play and carefully reviewed three separate interrogations of the soldier.
The judge also wrote that many of the soldier’s actions which seem to damn him as shooting for revenge, including slapping hands with another soldier after the shooting, and changing his story multiple times, could be explained by his being unhinged from the incident.
Filis did not say that the defense’s case was on solid ground. He only said that the IDF prosecution had enough holes that it could not argue that the soldier was so dangerous that he needed to be returned to full detention.
In particular, the judge emphasized that the lower court had granted the IDF prosecution three extended detentions, which had allowed for an extensive investigation, before granting the partial release.
Earlier Tuesday, when asked by the court about the platoon commander’s concerns that there may have been an explosives vest, the IDF prosecution said that his concerns were “at a very low level.”
The court implied it did not believe the IDF prosecution could make such distinctions hastily and that even a small level of concern from the junior commander could be a major factor in the court’s decision, as it turned out to be.
Also, earlier Tuesday, the IDF prosecution officially confirmed that the killing shot was from the soldier who is suspected of manslaughter, not the earlier shooting carried out in the thwarting of the stabbing attack.
This confirmed Sunday’s reports from the Palestinian observer at the autopsy of al-Sharif, who previously said the accused soldier’s final shot was the fatal one. He was wounded by three non-fatal bullets when he attacked two soldiers.
The autopsy determination enhances the IDF prosecution’s case against the soldier for manslaughter, though it will still need to convince a trial judge that the self-defense argument was manufactured and illegitimate.
The next hearing is Thursday, when the lower IDF court will determine whether to keep the solider in open detention on the base or to release him to house arrest or be given a full release.Noam Amir/Maariv and Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this story.