Police on Tuesday morning announced the arrest of seven residents of the northern town of Shfaram under suspicion that they participated in the August 2005 killing of Jewish terrorist Eden Natan Zada after Zada murdered four Israeli Arabs on a bus in Shfaram and wounded 17 others.
Later in the day, the Haifa Magistrate's Court extended the remands of all seven suspects until next Monday. Police said that, after six of the suspects were arrested Tuesday morning, the seventh turned himself in to the Northern District's Central Investigation Unit.
Police said they planned to charge the suspects - three Muslim, three Druse, and one Christian, all reported to have criminal records - with murder.
Immediately after the shooting, Zada, an AWOL soldier who was wearing his IDF uniform when he opened fire with his army-issued M-16 on a crowded bus, was allegedly beaten to death by an angry mob. During the melee, five policemen were also injured as they tried to prevent the crowd from storming the bus and throwing metal objects and bottles.
Northern Region police chief Cmdr. Dan Ronen complimented on Tuesday the police's performance during the incident, saying that "I, as a commander, cannot just salute police, but have to say with full confidence that in many senses they prevented an even greater tragedy and an enormous cleavage in Israeli society."
Following the attack, the monitoring committee of the Israeli Arab leadership called on the police not to investigate the lynching aspect, saying that those involved acted in self-defense. Photographic evidence, however, seemed to indicate that Zada was beaten to death after he had already been subdued and handcuffed by police.
Ronen set up a special investigative team to examine the circumstances of the attack. Since then, a gag order has been in effect with regard to the case, including anything that could identify those suspected of involvement in the lynching.
"Alongside our identification with the pain of Shfaram residents and the pain of the families of the dead and the wounded, it was clear to me that as a law-enforcement organization we had to open an investigation along two channels: first and foremost into the terror attack itself, and in parallel, into the circumstances in which the attacker lost his life," Ronen said Tuesday.
While the arrests were met with stiff criticism from leaders in the Israeli Arab community, Ronen said that the arrests of the seven set an important precedent.
"I know that there are people - and not just in Shfaram - who will deepen their trauma, and who believe that justice was carried out against the terrorist. But to the overwhelming majority, it is clear that in an orderly country one cannot take the law into one's own hands."
Senior police officers in the Northern District stressed Tuesday that it was up to the courts - not the police - to determine whether the seven were guilty of murder or whether their actions were justified.
Zada's parents said Tuesday that they did not find solace in the arrests, and reiterated that they believed that many questions with regard to their son's death were yet unanswered by the investigations, which have been carried out by the police, the Military Police, and the Justice Ministry's Police Investigative Department.
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