Israel indicts Hamas mastermind in kidnap, murder of three Israeli teens

Husam Kawasme obtained funding from his brother in Gaza for the kidnapping, hid the bodies of the murdered Israelis, and tried to flee to Jordan before being caught and arrested, Shin Bet says.

Kidnapped Israeli teens (photo credit: REUTERS)
Kidnapped Israeli teens
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hussam Hassan Kawasme, the alleged Hamas mastermind of the kidnapping-murder of three Israeli teenagers in June, was indicted on Thursday afternoon in the Ofer Military Court.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) arrested Kawasme on July 11, on suspicion of assisting the killers and of hiding the victims’ bodies in land he owned in Hebron, security forces said.
The Justice Ministry had earlier revealed the news of the arrest in unrelated arguments to the High Court of Justice, as reported by The Jerusalem Post on August 5.
On Thursday, the Shin Bet released further details on Kawasme’s arrest.
Kawasme is described in the indictment and by the Shin Bet as a command-level Hamas operative, who obtained funding for the kidnapping from his brother, a Hamas member whom Israel expelled to the Gaza Strip as part of the Gilad Schalit deal.
The money likely came from Hamas in Gaza.
The precise details of who, how and when Hamas officials outside the West Bank approved the operation and the funding may not be fully fleshed out until the killers of the teens are apprehended.
According to the indictment, the creative method of delivering the funds included Kawasme’s brother using his mother as a first intermediary.
Another anonymous woman was used as an additional intermediary who would leave envelopes of funds anonymously at Kawasme’s house, the indictment alleges.
Kawasme allegedly used the money to buy the vehicle used in the kidnapping and triple murder, as well as four firearms.
On June 12, Hamas members kidnapped Gil-Ad Sha’er, 16, Naftali Fraenkel, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, as they waited for a ride outside the Alon Shvut settlement in Judea. The Shin Bet named the two chief suspects as Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aisha.
Both men are still on the run.
Initially, Hussam Kawasme was skeptical about carrying out such an operation in the West Bank context, noting that the kidnappers of Golani Brigade Sgt. Nachshon Wachsman in 1994 and perpetrators of other West Bank kidnappings had been busted and killed, the indictment states.
But eventually Hussam Kawasme was convinced and assisted Marwan, a relative, in developing all aspects of the plan, the indictment says.
During questioning, Hussam Kawasme confessed to being involved in the terrorist attack, and named others who hid the two wanted men, the Shin Bet said.
Hussam Kawasme, 40, became a wanted man on June 30, when security forces found the corpses of the missing teenagers. He had planned to flee to Jordan, using fake ID, with the help of family members in Hebron, named by the Shin Bet as Hisham Kawasme, 35, Jamil Kawasme, 28, and Hassan Kawasme, 45, who is a Hamas member. All three are now in custody.
“In an intelligence operation launched by the Shin Bet, Hussam Kawasme was tracked down [and] arrested in a hideout in the Shuafat refugee camp [in northeastern Jerusalem],” the Shin Bet said.
Hussam Kawasme was given up by another arrested accomplice who had hidden him and was also recently indicted.
Hussam Kawasme, a resident of Hebron, was in Israeli prison from 1995 to 2002 after being convicted of involvement in Hamas terrorist offenses, including being part of a cell that carried out bomb attacks.
“He is the son of a family whose sons have been involved in severe terrorist attacks on behalf of Hamas,” the domestic intelligence agency said.
Hussam’s brother Hassin Kawasme is serving a life sentence for his role in a bomb attack on a bus stop across from the Jerusalem International Convention Center in March 2011. Scottish tourist Mary Jane Gardner, 59, was killed in the attack and 39 people were wounded.
Another brother, Mahmoud Kawasme, served a 20-year prison sentence for his role in a twin suicide bombing attack aboard buses in Beersheba in August 2004, which killed 16 residents of the city and wounded more than 100 people. Mahmoud Kawasme was released as part of the Schalit exchange with Hamas and expelled to the Gaza Strip.
From Gaza, Mahmoud Kawasme transferred funds to his brother in Hebron for the attack on the three teenagers.
“During questioning by the Shin Bet, and during the questioning of others, it emerged that Hussam Kawasme served as a command level for the kidnapping,“ the Shin Bet said.
The indictment states that Hussam Kawasme obtained NIS 150,000 to carry out the attack, which is what prosecutors have concluded that they can prove, though the Shin Bet said that the actual amount could be as high as NIS 220,000 and that the funds were obtained with the help of his brother Mahmoud.
With this money, terrorists purchased, with the help of Noah Abu Aisha, a Hebron resident, a vehicle for the attack.
Hussam Kawasme directed Marwan and Abu Aisha to buy a relatively new Israeli car with an Israeli license plate, the indictment indicates.
The car Abu Aisha purchased had been recently stolen from Tzur Hadassah, west of Jerusalem, according to the indictment.
The vehicle used for the attack was later burned by the terrorists in the Dura area, southwest of Hebron, and a getaway car was abandoned in Hebron, the Shin Bet said.
Hussam Kawasme used some of the money to buy two M-16 rifles and two handguns from Hamas operative Adnan Muhammad Azat Zaro, 34, a resident of Hebron, which were given to Marwan Kawasme before the attack, according to the investigation.
Hussam instructed Marwan that after he carried out the kidnapping, he should leave a signal on the side of the road in a spot near Hussam’s residence, the indictment says.
Once he saw the signal, Hussam was to start to give the kidnappers logistical support while in hiding, the indictment alleges.
The teenagers were shot at close range with the pistols shortly after they tried to resist their kidnapping, the indictment says.
After the murders, Marwan Kawasme came to see Hussam Kawasme, and they drove together to land the latter had purchased several months ago and buried their victims, according to the indictment.
Hussam then helped Marwan Kawasme and Amar Abu Aisha to hide, with them returning to him intermittently to receive food, the indictment and the Shin Bet say.
In December 2013, Hussam first assisted Marwan in getting funds from a Hamas fund, called Agudat al-Nur, in Gaza, which pays Hamas operatives who are in prison.
“Hussam’s questioning also led to information on the involvement of others who were involved in Hebron, who have been arrested, and confessed to abetting the wanted suspects,” the Shin Bet said.
The additional suspects include two brothers. The Shin Bet named the first as Arafat Ibrahim Muhammad Kawasme, 50, from Hebron, a former senior Hamas member. He was arrested, and confessed to hiding the kidnappers and murderers in land he owned.
The second brother, Ahmed Ibrahim Muhammad Kawasme, 64, from Hebron, said during questioning that before the attack, Marwan Kawasme came to him and asked for help in hiding wanted men. Ahmed directed Marwan to his brother Arafat, according to the Shin Bet.
The intelligence agency believes that 11 suspects are involved in the various stages of the terrorist attack.