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Eritrean Dies After Israeli Security Mistakes Him For Assailant In Bus Station Attack


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israelis today not to take the law into their own hands. He was referring to an incident over the weekend in an Israeli bus station when an African asylum seeker was mistaken for a terrorist. The man was shot by a security guard and beaten by civilians at the bus stop. He later died of his injuries. NPR's Emily Harris is in Jerusalem and joins us now. And Emily, first tell us more about what happened at the bus station and how this African man, this Eritrean, got involved.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: The man's name is Abtom Zarhom. According to police, he was apparently a worker on a farm in southern Israel, and he had gone to Beer Sheva, the biggest city in that area, to renew his visa. And apparently he was in the bus station, probably heading back to the farm, when an Arab man burst into the bus station with a pistol and a knife, according to police, shot a soldier, took the soldier's weapon and continued to shoot, in the end, injuring more nine people. The soldier that he shot died and was buried today. The Eritrean man was shot, apparently by mistake, by a security guard. And then, according to police, people in the station kicked him and injured him further, and he died of his wounds.

CORNISH: So he was not an accomplice. Tell us more about who did carry out this assault in Beer Sheva.

HARRIS: He was not an accomplice, and police are instructed to investigate this case - both the security guard and the people who got involved in beating him. The person who carried out the attack is an Israeli citizen. He is an Arab man named Mohannad Al-Oqbi. He's in his early 20s, according to police. He's a member of a Bedouin tribe. Bedouins have long roots in Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula. And some of them are in Palestinian territories, and some of them are Israeli-Arab citizens.

This is the first Arab-Israeli citizen to carry out an attack that has been fatal in this recent spate of violence. Many of the people who've been involved in the other attacks are Palestinians with residency in Jerusalem, meaning that they are not citizens although they have many of the same basic rights in terms of employment and moving around the country.

CORNISH: Finally, Emily, is there any evidence that there's any one person or organization that's actually coordinating these attacks?

HARRIS: It doesn't seem that way, Audie. It looks like these are people who are acting mostly on their own, perhaps inspired by something. Israel points to what they call incitement, a lot of videos on social media. This is something that has caused a lot of fear among ordinary Israelis not really knowing where this is centered.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks a lot, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.