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Israel: 2 Palestinians indicted in killing of U.S. tourist

Israeli authorities indicted two Palestinians on Wednesday in the killing of an American woman late last year and said the men were also linked to another death and attacks aimed at Israelis.
Image: A man charged with murder and attempted killing is escorted by Israeli prison guards in Jerusalem District Court
One of the Palestinian men charged with the slaying of an American tourist is escorted by Israeli prison guards in Jerusalem District Court Wednesday.Ammar Awad / Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

Israeli authorities indicted two Palestinians on Wednesday in the killing of an American woman late last year, saying the men had confessed to the killing and were also linked to another death and attacks aimed at Israelis.

Kristine Luken, 44, was stabbed to death in December while hiking with a friend in a forest outside Jerusalem. Her attackers killed her because they believed Luken, a Christian missionary, was Jewish, according to the indictment.

The killing drew attention in Israel, coming at a time of relative quiet and taking place in a popular hiking spot not far from Jerusalem. The weeks of official silence that followed her death added to the mystery.

Police said they had the suspects in custody within a day of the killing but imposed a gag order when they realized the men were linked to a longer string of attacks and other crimes, including robberies and rape.

The order was lifted Wednesday when the two suspects, along with a third accused in the murder of an Israeli woman in early 2010, were led into a Jerusalem court in orange jumpsuits and leg shackles. All three were bearded and in their early 30s.

They did not speak to reporters and do not yet have court-appointed attorneys. The indictment said the men have confessed and re-enacted both killings. Authorities also have in custody an additional 10 suspects linked to the same ring who were involved in lesser crimes like break-ins and weapons possession, police said.

Luken, who was involved with the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People, a group that promotes Christianity among Jews, lived for most of the last two decades in northern Virginia. An attorney for the family, Michael Decker, said her parents were in Texas.

They were "happy that suspects have been found," Decker said.

"They hope that these are indeed the terrorists. They hope justice will be served," Decker added. "They would like to know what happened on that tragic day when their daughter was murdered in a vicious terror attack."

The family and church kept details of Luken's place of residence under wraps.

Patrick Henry College spokesman David Halbrook said Luken worked in the college's accreditation and compliance office from October 2007 through April of 2009. The college is in Purcellville, Virginia.

On Dec. 17, 2010, the two suspects, Kifah Ghneimat and Iyad Fatafa, "decided to enter Israel illegally in order to kill Jews" and brutally attacked the two women, according to the indictment.

The indictment shows the "motives were nationalistic," said prosecutor Joey Asch.

The friend, Kaye Wilson, 46, recalled the attack in a harrowing interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday.

She said the attackers held the two for some time before binding them. Then each one began stabbing one of the women.

"I hear (the other attacker) murdering Kristine, and the next thing I remember he pushes me to the ground and leans on my side and he starts stabbing me on the left upper back. At this point I said the Jewish prayer 'Hear O Israel,' because that is what you say before you die," she said, "and I could hear Kristine crying and calling out to God."

She said she played dead with her eyes open, but she was stabbed once more in the chest. Somehow she managed to get herself to a road after the assault.

Wilson, a licensed tour guide, is an Israeli citizen and said she moved here 30 years ago from Britain. After the gag order on the arrests was lifted Wednesday, she told the AP, "I am thrilled about the fact these people have been caught."

Police say the men were not members of a recognized militant group but were rather a loosely affiliated group that took part both in politically motivated actions and crime.

Ghneimat, one of the men charged with killing Luken, and the third suspect indicted Wednesday are charged with killing an Israeli woman they found walking alone near a monastery in the same area in February 2010. Their motivation was "the situation of the Palestinians," according to the indictment.

Ghneimat is also charged with attempted murder for stabbing and wounding a young Israeli couple a few days before that attack.

Jerusalem police chief Aharon Franco said Gneimat told interrogators that the knife attack was retaliation for the assassination of a senior Hamas operative in Dubai in January 2010.

Israel is widely believed to have assassinated the man, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, but has not commented on the allegations.