• Mural for Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh who was shot and killed on May 11, 2022. | Photo: Wisam Hashlamoun / Flash90

Who killed Abu Akleh?

Yochanan Visser - 12 July 2022

Ballistics expert criticizes US investigation: “To base a whole case on one bullet is completely wrong from an investigative point of view”.

The death of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on 11 May 2022 is front page news again. Early July, media around the world reported the results of an American ballistic investigation that had taken place in the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

However, the results of this US investigation seemed to be fuelled by political considerations as we shall see.

It is almost two months since Al Jazeerah journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed in a gun battle between Palestinian terrorists and Israeli army (IDF) soldiers in the town of Jenin. And still it remains unclear what exactly happened. The death of the Palestinian journalist led to serious violent riots in Arab towns in Israel and to new shootings in Jenin, which is known as a stronghold of terror.

“The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Al Jazeerah were quick to accuse the IDF of deliberately killing Abu Akleh”

Unsubstantiated conclusions
The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Al Jazeerah were quick to accuse the IDF of deliberately killing Abu Akleh, an experienced journalist who often worked in the front lines.

This conclusion was drawn despite the lack of a forensic crime scene investigation at the place where Abu Akleh was hit in the head and where she succumbed to her injuries. Such an investigation is standard procedure in the Netherlands, the United States and Israel.

From the outset, the PA rejected an Israeli proposal to set up a joint forensic and ballistic investigation that would be attended by American experts. The PA also refused to release the “Israeli” bullet it claimed had killed the Al Jazeerah journalist.

Al Jazeerah later published a photograph of the bullet which, it claimed, had killed Abu Akleh. That was on 16 June, and they hastened to link it to the IDF again because it was a 5.56 calibre bullet. The IDF uses this ammunition for the M-16 rifle, with which many of its soldiers are equipped.

However, this ‘observation’ by the PA and Al Jazeerah left out two things. First, the M-16 rifle is also massively used by the PA security service, but also by Palestinian terrorists who steal the weapons and then smuggle them into Judea and Samaria. Secondly, statements from the IDF and others have shown that the closest soldiers were snipers. However, these snipers do not use the M-16 rifle and always fire a single shot. During the firefight, however, multiple salvos were clearly audible.

Media investigation
Several media outlets (official and alternative) have published investigations since the incident which should prove that the IDF is indeed responsible for Abu Akleh’s death or not.

Pro-Israel blogger ‘Elder of Ziyon’, for example, regularly wrote blog posts in which he provided new material which would prove the innocence of the IDF. The blogger focused on video recordings and forensic audio material which showed that there were Palestinian gunmen on the rooftops close to where Abu Akleh died.

American conclusion
This week it was definitively revealed that the Abu Akleh case is being misused for political purposes. The PA finally decided to release the bullet that “killed the martyr Abu Akleh” for investigation by American experts. That investigation was eventually conducted at the US Embassy in Jerusalem and was reportedly also attended by Israeli experts.

The US State Department then issued a statement late on Monday saying that no definitive conclusion could be drawn on exactly where the bullet came from. This was due to the fact that the bullet was badly damaged.

The same statement then said that the American investigators had also been given full access to the investigations that the IDF and the PA were carrying out, and in the case of the IDF, are still carrying out. According to the State Department, the US security coordinator in Israel had concluded that ‘it was plausible that gunfire coming from IDF positions was responsible for the death of Shireen Abu Akleh’.

This part of the statement clearly showed that there was a political reason for the US security coordinator’s conclusions.

Israeli expert
Lior Nadavi is an expert in the field of ballistic forensic crime investigation and previously worked for the Israeli police. He said the following about the ‘investigation’ in the US Embassy in Jerusalem:

“To put a whole case on one bullet is wrong from the investigative point of view,” he said. “You need to start with the crime-scene investigation, and many details are missing, at least for us in the public. For example, what was Shireen’s position at the moment she was hit: Was she facing Israeli soldiers? Was her back facing them or her side? She was standing next to a wall; are there any bullets that hit the wall? That can be checked, and the bullet that hit her could have been a ricochet, and then the whole story takes a turn.”

Nadavi also said that X-rays of the woman’s head and the autopsy report could have determined whether Shireen had been hit by this particular bullet or not.

“There are so many variables in this case that we just don’t know”, the Israeli expert said”

“They could have taken any bullet from the scene and said it came from the Israeli side,” Nadavi said, adding that “the bullet is supposed to break apart when it hits and cause greater damage. The fact that this didn’t happen means it could have hit something and then lowered its velocity… There are so many variables in this case that we just don’t know”, the Israeli expert said.

Nadavi gave his explanation of the flawed US investigation during a Zoom conference organised by Media Central in Jerusalem.

Politics determines investigation result
I attended this conference and heard from another expert that the American investigation gave him the impression of an attempt to save both the cabbage and the goat.

The Americans wanted to take the sting out of the conflict between Israel and the PA over Abu Akleh’s death before President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel on 13 July, according to the expert.

The claim that the IDF was presumably responsible for the gunfire was intended to appease the PA, while the first part of the statement showed that the Israelis were right about the bullet and the forensic investigation.

The PA issued a statement on Sunday evening saying that the conclusions of the Americans were wrong, that the bullet that finally killed Abu Akleh was not damaged at all. In the same statement, the PA said they would go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over the matter. They have said that before, but it will not surprise anyone if this time, too, the threat is not carried out.

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