They cruised around the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem for hours in the dark of night, three Israeli Jews: a man of 29, who was driving, and two of his relatives, both about 17. They were looking for a victim, preferably someone lightweight, who could easily be pushed into the car.
At 3:48 a.m. on July 2, according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, the three relatives, now murder suspects who have yet to be identified, came across a slightly built Palestinian teenager who was alone: Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16, who was waiting for his friends near the mosque on the main road of the well-to-do neighborhood of Shuafat, a few yards from his home.
After forcing Abu Khdeir into the car, a Hyundai, they sped off to a forest near the western entrance to Jerusalem. Abu Khdeir was dragged from the vehicle and the adult bludgeoned him on the head a number of times with a wrench. The adult then set Abu Khdeir on fire with the help of one of his young relatives. Leaving the teen to die, the three fled.
Hours before Abu Khdeir’s killing, Israel had buried the three teenagers, Eyal Yifrach, 19, and friends Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel, both 16, who had been abducted as they hitched a ride home from their yeshivas in the West Bank and were shot to death soon after. Their bodies were found in a field near Hebron after an 18-day search.
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Bent on revenge for that and other attacks against Jews, according to details of the investigation into Abu Khdeir’s death released on Monday by the Shin Bet, the three suspects planned the murder. They came equipped with plastic handcuffs and gasoline.
The abduction and murder of the Israeli teenagers, the subsequent clampdown against Hamas in the West Bank and the revenge killing of Abu Khdeir further poisoned the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians, igniting tensions that spread to the Gaza border and grew into a full-blown confrontation.
During the past week more than 180 Palestinians were killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza and more than 1,000 rockets were fired from Gaza against Israel.
For two of the three suspects, the streets of Shuafat were familiar. The adult driver and one of the youths had tried to abduct a small Palestinian boy from the same area the night before. Mousa Zaloum, 8, was later photographed with red marks on his neck. In an interview with Channel 2 News in Israel, the boy said the would-be kidnappers had choked him with a rope. Mousa’s mother struggled with the kidnappers, and her son escaped.
Abu Khdeir was not so fortunate. The fifth of seven children, three sons and four daughters, he was studying at a vocational school to be an electrician. His charred body was identified by means of DNA samples taken from his parents’ saliva.
Speaking to reporters soon after, his mother, Suha Abu Khdeir, recounted that he had been playing a computer game on a laptop with one of his brothers, then left the house at 3:30 a.m. to meet his friends for the dawn prayer that starts the daily fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Security cameras along the street captured the moments of his abduction. Youths ran to the house to tell Abu Khdeir’s parents that he had been forced into the gray Hyundai. They called the police and tried to call Abu Khdeir’s cellphone. It rang, but nobody answered.
He was buried two days later in a tense funeral attended by thousands.
Eli Cohen, a police investigator, told Army Radio that the car seen in video of the abduction was later found parked outside the home of one of the suspects.
On the night between July 5 and 6, seven suspects were arrested. Three convinced investigators that they had no role in the murder or in the attempted kidnapping the night before, and were released. Another was a relative who admitted to investigators that he had learned about the abduction and murder after the event.
Hearing about the developments in the case, Hassan Abu Khdeir, a representative of the family, said on Monday, “We do not trust the Israeli judicial system.” He said that human rights groups were collecting details and the family hoped to press the case in an international court.
The killing of Abu Khdeir was widely condemned in Israel, despite the outrage over the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”
Still, the killing of Abu Khdeir has forced Israelis to confront the violent extremism that exists on the fringes of their society. A group of Israeli youth activists and residents who live near the forest where Abu Khdeir’s burned body was found erected a makeshift stone monument there in his memory. It was later defaced, rebuilt and defaced again.