Authorities have arrested “a number of suspects” in connection with the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teenager who was snatched off a Jerusalem street last week, an Israeli police spokesman said Sunday.
Israeli media, citing unidentified police sources, said six young suspects described as Jewish extremists were arrested in the case by the Shin Bet, Israel's domestic security service, and are being held without access to counsel.
In the only official statement about the arrests, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said “a number of suspects were arrested for the killing” and “there are strong indications that the background was nationalistic.”
The suspects have not been identified.
According to multiple reports in Israeli media, the suspects were arrested very early Sunday in their homes in different communities in the Jerusalem area. Some are minors. They were reportedly brought before a judge Sunday evening and remanded to custody.
They are said to be kept from meeting with lawyers under an Israeli law that allows suspects to be held without access to counsel for 10 days in cases involving national security. Their lawyers reportedly have filed an appeal on this matter.
Earlier Sunday, commander of police operations Aharon Exol told Army Radio that the police force was investing “tremendous technological and human resources” in the case that would be “solved in the very near future” with the apprehension of suspects.
The Shin Bet was working with the police on the case.
The burnt body of 16-year-old Khdeir was found early Wednesday in a forested area on Jerusalem’s western outskirts, shortly after friends reported seeing him being coerced into a car outside his home in the neighborhood of Shuafat.
Khdeir’s death, believed by his family and community to have been revenge for the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, sparked rage and widespread clashes throughout Jerusalem and Arab communities in northern Israel.
Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said more facts would come out Sunday about the arrest of suspects in connection with Khdeir's killing.
“We have strong suspicions that there are nationalistic motives behind these crimes,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “The prime minister said he was going to bring the perpetrators to justice very quickly and he has.”
If the suspects are Jews and are prosecuted for the crimes, they will not be hailed as heroes in Israel, Dermer said. That contrasts, he said, with the heroic treatment Palestinians have given to terrorists.
Dermer said he had no update on the investigation into the slaying of the Israeli teens, found buried in a field in the West Bank, that ignited the recent tensions.
“We hope that the Palestinians will treat that crime with the seriousness that my prime minister treated this crime of the Arab boy,” Dermer said. “If the Palestinian leadership would treat it in the same way, then maybe we could get faster to a good outcome of this investigation.”
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) said he was heartened by the news of the arrests.
“Israel is a place where the rule of law still prevails,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I would hope and I would expect that the Palestinians would do the same thing, but that remains to be seen.”
The autopsy of Khdair revealed that the teenager had sustained a blow to the head but that his death was the result of extensive burns to 90% of his body, the Palestinian attorney general said Saturday. It also revealed Khdair was still alive and breathing as he burned, the attorney general said.
Separately, 15-year-old Tarek Abu Khdeir, a cousin of the victim, was released from police custody Sunday amid widespread condemnation of his brutal beating allegedly at the hands of undercover police during protests in Shuafat on Thursday. The State Department sharply condemned treatment of the young U.S. citizen, and Israeli Justice Ministry authorities opened an investigation after a video claiming to capture the incident emerged.
Times staff writer Jim Puzzanghera contributed to this report.