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(photo credit: Channel 10)
A gang of serial rapists has been prowling the North, raping Jewish women as revenge for IDF actions in the West Bank, police revealed Tuesday after arresting six suspects.
"We are raping Jews because of what the IDF is doing to the Palestinians in the territories," one of the six suspects told investigators from the Northern District Central Investigative Unit (CIU) during questioning. During their questioning and their brief appearance at the Nazareth Magistrate's Court Tuesday, none of the four main suspects indicated that they felt remorse for their actions.
Police said they were aware of four attacks carried out by the gang, but they believed there were probably other incidents that had gone unreported by the victims.
In all four cases, police said, the rapists' modus operandi were strikingly similar - all of the attacks were directed against young women who were waiting at bus stops or designated hitchhiking points in the western Galilee and the Haifa area.
In all of the cases, the attackers forced their victim into a car and drove together with the victim to an isolated spot, where they raped her.
All of the suspects are from the Galilee town of Bir al-Maksur, a Beduin village near the Hamovil Junction. The last of the four known rapes was carried out in a forested area just outside of the village.
The first attack occurred in April 2005, when a 13-year-old girl was raped at the Zevulun Beach in Kiryat Yam. In December of that year, a 19-year-old soldier was kidnapped and raped just outside of Kiryat Ata.
According to police, the gang attacked again three days later. In that assault, the gang allegedly kidnapped a 16-year-old girl who was standing with her friends at the Kiryon Junction in Kiryat Bialik. They allegedly took her to a grove near Tamra, where they raped her.
It was after the third attack, commander of the Northern District CIU Asst.-Cmdr. Menahem Haver said, that the police realized they were dealing with a serial rape gang. In that case, the teenage victim told investigators that one of her attackers told her the attack was in revenge for IDF operations in the Gaza Strip.
Investigators managed to gather DNA from two of the crime scenes and began to search for potential suspects who fit the victims' descriptions. Haver said police approached around 170 youths who fit the descriptions offered by the victims, and elicited DNA samples from the suspects. Police said one of the tests appeared to offer a match to DNA found at one of the crime scenes.
But while police were investigating the first three attacks, the rapists struck again.
In November 2006, police say, the gang struck close to home, abducting and raping a 25-year-old woman who was standing at a bus stop on the outskirts of Bir al-Maksur.
At one point, police set up checkpoints and ambushes at intersections that they suspected the gang might frequent. At one of those checkpoints, police officers noticed an old, white car that resembled the car described by the victims. When the car approached the police checkpoint, its driver made a quick U-turn across an unbroken yellow line.
But police noticed the suspicious vehicle and initiated an undercover surveillance, following the vehicle back to Bir al-Maksur.
The suspects' arrests were released for publication by the Nazareth Magistrate's Court, which also extended the four key suspects' remands by 10 days. The remand of an additional suspect was extended by five days. A young woman from the village who is suspected of collaborating with the suspects was released on restricted terms.
The arrest of six residents of the village shocked the locals, who said the police's suggestion that the crimes were committed for anti-Israel reasons stirred up emotions even more.
Hasan Gadir, a village leader, said he called an urgent meeting with all northern local council representatives to be held Wednesday, in order to decide how to address the issue.
"We are shocked and horrified," he said. "This was a dark day for all of us and we cannot take its implications seriously enough. Our tribe is known for its good temper and spirit, and we denounce those youths' actions. We will never accept this sort of behavior. For us, this is worse than a murder."
Gadir said he spent the day Tuesday with Cmdr. Dan Ronen, Northern District Police chief, and at the detention center, where he met with the suspects and their parents.
"I don't know the suspects personally but I know their parents. They are all from good families, but none of us can even think why and how it happened," he said. "We are going to examine the cases more deeply and draw conclusions, so that this will never happen again. I took it personally and it made me sad and shocked. This village has made me proud in the past, and I hope I will be proud of it again."
Gadir's reaction was echoed by other members of the town.
"I read about it on the Internet and it made me upset," said Adel Hareb, manager of the Bir al-Maksur Education Department. "That doesn't add respect to our community and this kind of behavior is against our belief, culture and tradition as Beduins."
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, Hareb said the village members "will support any punishment they receive, but I hope this turns out to be a mistake. I am sure that their family members denounce their actions just as we do," Hareb added.
Bir al-Maksur is home to 7,000 residents, most of whom are Muslims.
"This is a friendly and safe village which many travelers from all sectors enjoy visiting. It is too bad that irresponsible people can ruin, with a wave of a hand, what we have built with hard work, love and care," Hareb said.
Another resident of the village expressed shock at the report of the rapes, saying, "These kinds of crimes are shocking. We hear on the news about rapes all the time, and even if we cannot feel what the women who were attacked feel, this is just as terrible. Our village is a quiet place whose residents live in coexistence and friendship with all of its Israeli neighbors and I hope people don't hold it against us all."