Palestinian terror suspect in deadly West Bank drive-by apprehended by the Israeli forces
Israeli security forces on Wednesday night apprehended the Palestinian man suspected to have carried out a West Bank drive-by shooting attack Sunday that left one Israeli student dead and two injured, the Shin Bet security service said.
The Shin Bet’s statement came less than an hour after the hospital treating the wounded announced that one of them — 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta — had succumbed to his injuries.
On Wednesday night, officers from the Israel Police’s Special Policing Unit and troops from the Israel Defense Forces, acting on intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet, raided a building in the central West Bank village of Silwad and took Muntasir Shalabi, 44, into custody, the Shin Bet said in a statement. Shalabi is from the nearby town of Turmus Ayya and is not believed to have any affiliation with Palestinian terror groups, the security service said.
The arrest brought to an end a three-day manhunt across the West Bank, in which Israeli forces arrested 12 people suspected of assisting Shalabi make his escape or knowing his whereabouts, including his 17-year-old son and wife. The detained family members did not cooperate with investigators and denied he was involved in the attack. His wife was released earlier Wednesday, according to Hebrew media reports.
On Sunday afternoon, Shalabi allegedly drove up to the Tapuah junction in the northern West Bank and opened fire at a group of Israeli teenagers who were students at the nearby religious seminary at the Itamar settlement, fatally wounding one of them, seriously injuring a second and lightly wounding a third.
Soldiers from the IDF’s Givati Brigade who were at the scene returned fire, hitting the vehicle used in the attack and the terrorist driving it. Despite being shot, the gunman fled the scene, ditching the car used in the drive-by shooting in the nearby town of Aqraba. He is suspected of evading capture with help from family and friends.
After his arrest late Wednesday night, Shalabi was taken to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment for the gunshot wound he sustained while fleeing the scene.
Following the shooting on Sunday, the Shin Bet formed a dedicated task force to find Shalabi, focusing its efforts on interrogating those suspected of helping him escape. On Monday, forces seized the vehicle believed to have been used in the attack, but not before it was set aflame by Palestinian protesters who clashed with the troops at the scene in an apparent bid to destroy evidence.
The Shin Bet’s interrogations led security forces to a building in Aqraba on Tuesday where he was believed to be hiding, but upon searching the structure, Israeli troops determined that he was not there. Though a number of people in the village suspected of helping Shalabi were arrested.
According to the Shin Bet, additional “intelligence information” led the police and IDF to the shack in Silwad where Shalabi was found. After the troops identified themselves and called for him to come out, Shalabi surrendered himself to the security forces unarmed. Video footage of the arrest, which was shared on Palestinian social media, show the troops surrounding the shack and entering it with guns drawn.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Shin Bet and IDF “for their swift and determined action” that led to the arrest.
“Israel’s long arm reaches anyone who harms our citizens,” the premier said in a statement.
Guetta, a Jerusalem resident, was the most seriously injured among the three students shot at the Tapuah Junction bus stop on Sunday in the northern West Bank. He had been shot in the head.
Guetta was studying in a religious seminary in the nearby settlement of Itamar. He is survived by his parents, four brothers and two sisters.
The two other injured students were Benaya Peretz, 19, from Beit She’an, who was shot in the back, and remains in very serious condition, and Amichai Hala from Safed, also 19, who has been released from the hospital to recover from his wounds at home.
The attack came amid heightened tensions in the West Bank after the Palestinian Authority announced it was indefinitely delaying elections planned for later this month, blaming the decision on ostensible Israeli refusal to allow PA voting in East Jerusalem.
The IDF also bolstered its forces in the West Bank for the month of Ramadan, a period that regularly sees an uptick in violence.
Sunday’s shooting was followed by several apparent retaliatory attacks by Israeli settlers, including the storming of a Jaloud village in the predawn hours of Monday morning, where Israelis from the nearby Shiloh settlement threw rocks and stun grenades and started fires.