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Eritrean migrant killed in Israel following fatal bus station attack

Published 19/10/2015

A wounded Israeli policeman is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba. (AP)
A wounded Israeli policeman is evacuated from the scene of an attack in Beersheba. (AP)

An Eritrean migrant shot by an Israeli security guard and then attacked by bystanders who mistook him for an assailant in a fatal bus station attack has died.

The mistaken shooting of the migrant, identified as Mulu Habtom Zerhom, reflects the nervousness among Israelis after months of seemingly random lone-wolf attacks by Palestinians.

Israel's Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said: "It's terrible. It shows you what a terrible situation we are in."

The daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot included the headline "Just because of his skin colour".

Dr Nitza Neuman-Heiman, deputy general director of Soroka Medical Centre, told Army Radio that Zerhom arrived at the hospital in "very serious condition" and died late on Sunday from both gunshot wounds and the injuries sustained during attacks by bystanders. The hospital said he suffered gunshot wounds to the abdomen.

The attack, at the central bus station in the southern city of Beersheba, was among the bloodiest in a month-long wave of violence. A 19-year-old Israeli soldier was killed and nine people were wounded when an Arab assailant armed with a gun and knife opened fire.

Israeli news websites posted security camera footage that shows Zerhom, crawling on the floor and a security guard shooting him. Footage also showed a mob of shouting Israelis crowded around the man. The man was attacked as an Israeli officer and some bystanders tried to protect him.

Police are seeking to arrest those Israeli civilians who "aggressively beat" and kicked the Eritrean man "while he lay on the floor and posed no threat," police spokeswoman Luba Samri said.

During a month of violence, nine Israelis and the Eritrean have been killed in a wave of shootings and stabbings by Palestinian assailants. Forty-one Arabs - including 20 identified by Israel as attackers - have been killed, with the rest dying in clashes with Israeli troops.

The attacks, carried out seemingly randomly by attackers with no known membership to organised militant groups, have unnerved Israel.

Zerhom was in Beersheba to renew his Israeli visa, his employer at a plant nursery, Sagi Malachi, told Army Radio.

About 34,000 Eritrean migrants are in Israel. They say they are fleeing persecution and conflict and seek refugee status. Israel does not grant them refugee status, but does not deport them to Eritrea in line with international law so as not to endanger their lives. Migrants must renew Israeli visas every month or two, according to migrant activists.

"The death of an asylum seeker at the hands of security guards and an angry mob is a tragic but foreseeable outgrowth of a climate in which some Israeli politicians encourage citizens to take the law into their own hands," said Sari Bashi of Human Rights Watch

Israeli police identified the assailant as 21 year-old Mohannad al-Okbi, an Arab citizen of Israel, from the Bedouin town of Hura in southern Israel. He was shot and killed in the attack. Security officers arrested one of al-Okbi's relatives on suspicion that he assisted the attacker, according to police.

The Israeli security agency Shin Bet said the attacker had no past record of involvement in militant activity.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the beating, telling members of his Likud Party that Israel is a "law abiding country".

"No one should take the law into their own hands," he said.

Mr Netanyahu offered condolences to the man's family.

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