Murder charges against terrorist freed for Schalit reignite debate
Ziad Awad is charged with murdering senior police officer Baruch Mizrahi on Passover eve • Investigation reveals Awad planned shooting attack on Mizrahi's vehicle well in advance • "Muslims who kill Jews go to paradise," he told son.
Lilach Shoval, Itsik Saban and Israel Hayom Staff
Ziad Awad (left) and his son Izzedine in court
Ziad Awad, a Hamas man living in Kfar Idna near Hebron, may be the terrorist who puts an end to prisoner exchanges with Israel. Awad, who was freed as part of a prisoner exchange for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2011, killed senior police officer Baruch Mizrahi in a shooting attack in April, according to Israeli authorities.
Awad's son Izzedine was also arrested in connection with the murder.
Mizrahi was killed on Passover eve, as he and his family were making their way to a Passover Seder. Mizrahi's wife sustained a gunshot wound. Their five children were unhurt.
Credit: Police Spokesperson
When he was released in 2011, Awad was serving a life sentence for murdering Palestinians suspected of collaborating with Israel. The recent revelation of Awad's alleged involvement in the Passover eve attack reignited the bitter debate surrounding the Schalit deal, to which many Israelis were opposed. Opponents are using this incident as proof that the prisoner exchange was a mistake, as they believe it was.
The arrest came amid focused efforts by the Shin Bet security agency, the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Police Counterterrorism Unit to apprehend the culprits. Forensic experts recovered more than 50 shell casings from the scene. The investigation revealed that all the rounds came from one gun. Fingerprints and DNA were lifted from the casings, leading the investigators to the perpetrator.
The investigation revealed that the Awad, 42, had purchased a motorcycle and an AK-47 for the purpose of carrying out the attack. He apparently visited the site about a week prior to the attack to gather information. Immediately after the attack, during which he fired at seven vehicles, Awad sped back to his home on the motorcycle. According to investigators, Awad then told his son that the attack was religiously motivated and that "according to Islam, anyone who kills a Jew goes to paradise."
The son, 18, told Shin Bet interrogators that he knew of his father's intention to commit murder. He even disclosed the location of the gun and magazines his father used in the attack, and provided additional information that proved his father's involvement in the attack.
"It looks as though the attack was planned well in advance and it was executed in a thorough and professional manner," said a senior Israeli officer on Monday.
On May 7, Israeli soldiers and police officers surrounded the Awad home in Kfar Idna and called on both men to come out. Awad turned himself in without resistance.
On Monday, both men were indicted by a military court in Judea. Awad was charged with voluntary manslaughter, seven counts of attempted manslaughter, carrying, possessing and manufacturing weapons. Awad's son was charged with being an accessory on all counts.
The officer who notified Mizrahi's widow, Hadas, of the arrest said, "The unit's work signifies coming full circle in apprehending the perpetrators of this heinous crime, and communicates a clear message to all terrorists that the long arm of the law will reach every last one of them."
The commander of the unit responsible for the arrest recalled that "the fighters I saw in front of me were extremely motivated to capture the murderer responsible for this despicable crime and to see him prosecuted."
"Last Memorial Day, we visited the gravesite of one of the fallen soldiers from our unit and we could not ignore Baruch's youngest son, who was reciting Kaddish (the prayer for the dead) on his father's grave. It gave us all chills," the commander said.
"His widow, Hadas, impressed us immensely with her determination and the courage she displayed during the attack. In essence, she saved her children's lives. Right then, we knew that one day soon, the security forces would apprehend the killer. I am full of hope that his capture will bring even a modicum of solace to [Mizrahi's] widow and children."
Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino also addressed the arrest, saying, "I vowed to make every effort, in cooperation with the other security bodies, to lay my hands on these murderous terrorists. Today I want to thank the police and the Shin Bet for solving this horrific murder of a police officer."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the security forces for the arrest, saying, "I ordered the demolition of the home belonging to the terrorist who committed this crime. He is a Hamas member, and this is part of the effort we are making to combat Hamas."
The Awad family was given 24 hours to appeal the demolition order.
A spokeswoman for B'Tselem, a human rights organization, issued a statement in response to the demolition order, saying that "the two defendants will be tried and, if convicted, will likely be sentenced to long jail terms. The heavy price -- the loss of the home -- will be paid not by them but by their family members, who are not suspected of committing any crime."