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, youths about 17. They were looking for a victim, preferably someone lightweight, who could easily be pushed into the car.
Though some of the details remain uncertain, 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: Muhammad 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.
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After forcing Muhammad into the car, a Hyundai, they sped off to a forest near the western entrance to Jerusalem. Muhammad was dragged from the vehicle and the adult bludgeoned him on the head a number of times with a wrench. The adult then set Muhammad on fire with the help of one of his young relatives. Leaving Muhammad to die, the three fled.
Hours before Muhammad’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.
Bent on revenge for that and other attacks against Jews, according to details of the investigation into Muhammad’s death released on Monday by the Shin Bet, the three suspects planned the murder. They came equipped with handcuffs and gasoline.
The abduction and murder of the Israeli teenagers, the subsequent clampdown on Hamas in the West Bank and the revenge killing of Muhammad further poisoned the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians, driving tensions that spread to the Gaza border and grew into a full-blown confrontation. Over 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.
While the killings sent shockwaves around the world, they have also brought out the humanity in people on both sides of the conflict, with the victims’ families condemning the crimes and calling for the violence to stop.
The three suspects, the Shin Bet said, have since admitted abducting and killing Muhammad, whose death touched off protests and further inflamed tensions in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian territories. The Shin Bet and the police said the three had also re-enacted the attack for investigators.
Their identities remain under a judicial order of silence, partly, a judge wrote Monday, to protect the rights of the two minors until they are formally charged. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said they were expected to be charged on Friday with kidnapping and premeditated murder.
The authorities were investigating reports that the adult driver and one of the youths had tried to abduct a small Palestinian boy from the same area of Shuafat 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.
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Muhammad was not so fortunate. The fifth of seven children, three sons and four daughters, Muhammad 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 Muhammad’s parents that he had been forced into the gray Hyundai. They called the police and tried to call Muhammad’s cellphone. It rang, but nobody answered
Muhammad 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 Muhammad was widely condemned in Israel, despite the outrage over the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teenagers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged that anyone found guilty would “face the full weight of the law.”
Rachel Fraenkel, the mother of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank, spoke of her pain upon hearing about Muhammad’s death. Speaking to reporters outside her home after the shiva, the traditional seven-day Jewish mourning period, she said, “Even in the abyss of mourning for Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, it is difficult for me to describe how distressed we are by the outrage committed in Jerusalem — the shedding of innocent blood in defiance of all morality, of the Torah, of the foundation of the lives of our boys and of all of us in this country.”
The Israeli authorities have identified the two suspects in the murder of the three teenagers — two men from the Palestinian city of Hebron — but have not been able to find them.
Still, the killing of Muhammad 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 Muhammad’s burned body was found erected a makeshift stone monument there in his memory. It was later defaced, rebuilt and defaced again.
In the days after the killing of Muhammad, the Shin Bet said, the three main suspects tried to destroy the evidence. Among other things, an official of the agency said, they burned the clothes they wore that night.
A version of this article appears in print on July 15, 2014, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: A Boy Set Ablaze: Details Emerging in a Revenge Case. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe
This act of killing a young boy just because they wanted to kill somebody to satisfy their taste of brook that day, will leave Israel with the best friends it has had since the holocoust wondering if they have a friend or wether we have created a monster answerable to no one. This killing had a serious effect in me, will be looking at things with different eyes, will be looking for more justice and speaking out for acts such add this. I am not the only voice saying to Israel just because you think you are not wrong it does not makes you right.
Adam Gonzalez, Publisher