death penalty 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The Nazareth District Court on Monday sentenced 23-year-old Muhammad Anabtawi to life imprisonment for the murder of a soldier, Oleg Shaichat, and an additional 15 years for a series of unrelated crimes while belonging to an Israeli Arab terrorist cell known as the "Galilee Liberators."
After being ushered into the courtroom, Anabtawi told reporters, "I didn't do it. I'm not a killer. I confessed under pressure."
His sister Yasmin said, "This is a country of racists. All they wanted to do was to close the file. My brother is innocent."
On the other side of the room, Shaichat's homeroom high school teacher, Simha Gaspo, said, "This is a day of great relief after everything that has happened since the murder. We are grateful that finally the real murderer will be sitting behind bars."
Shaichat was killed by Anabtawi and Muhammad Khatib on July 21, 2003, while hitchhiking to his home in Upper Nazareth. The killers picked him up, strangled him and dumped his body in the trunk of their car.
Later, they buried him, burned his clothes and possessions and stole his M-16 rifle.
Khatib was shot to death on April 18, 2004, when he and another member of the terrorist group opened fire on a police vehicle at the Rimon junction, north of Kafr Kana, where Anabtawi and Khatib lived.
Khatib's accomplice, Ala Mousa, was wounded and captured in the incident. The police also found an M-16 rifle that was traced back to Shaichat. The following day, Anabtawi was arrested.
During his interrogation by the police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), Anabtawi confessed to having thrown firebombs on several occasions and to killing Shaichat. He later retracted his confession and claimed that Khatib had killed Shaichat.
Anabtawi was indicted on August 14, 2004. According to the charge sheet, he and Khatib had conspired to kidnap a soldier, kill him and steal his rifle. They took Anabtawi's brother's car and bought a bicycle chain, which they later used to strangle Shaichat.
After passing by one soldier hitchhiking at the Golani junction, they headed toward the Rimon junction, where they spotted Shaichat. Khatib moved to the back seat of the car and Shaichat sat beside the driver.
On the way, Anabtawi turned off the main road. When Shaichat asked why, they told him they were going to pick up a friend along the way. Khatib even pretended to talk to the "friend" on his cellphone.
At this point, Khatib wrapped the bicycle chain around Shaichat's neck and started to strangle him. Anabtawi stopped the car and began beating Shaichat while Khatib continued to strangle him until the soldier stopped moving.
They placed the body in the trunk, drove a short way, and then Khatib fired one bullet from the M-16 into Shaichat's head. They then drove into Kafr Kana and bought a pick and a spade, dug a hole and buried Shaichat's body. They hid the rifle until April, when Khatib used it in the attack against the border police.
On October 15, 2007, Nazareth District Court convicted Anabtawi of murder and several other charges, including throwing firebombs, conspiracy and attempt to kidnap soldiers.
The only issue at stake in the sentencing was whether the other crimes for which Anabtawi was convicted would be considered part of the murder, and therefore the mandatory life sentence would apply to them also, or whether they would be considered separate crimes with their own sentence.
The court ruled that crimes not part of the killing and its planning would be regarded separately. It sentenced Anabtawi to life in prison for the Shaichat murder and another 15 years in jail for the other crimes. The significance of this is that even if Anabtawi's life sentence is commuted to a certain number of years in jail, it will not affect the additional 15-year sentence.
At the end of the hearing, Anabtawi's family began shouting again, accusing the state of being racist and claiming Anabtawi had not received a fair trial. His mother and sister were forcibly removed from the courtroom.
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