The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was the result of a conspiracy by a group of right-wing fanatics who also planned to kill other Israeli Cabinet members and politicians, Israel’s police minister charged Thursday.
Two more suspects were arrested in connection with Rabin’s death, bringing to five the number of people being held in the alleged plot. The confessed assassin, Yigal Amir, 25, a Jewish law and computer student, had claimed that he acted alone and on orders from God.
A cache of enough weapons “to make any terror group proud” was uncovered at Amir’s home in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, Israeli Army Radio reported. The weapons reportedly included grenades, explosives and fuses.
“We believe there was conspiracy between a group of persons who had the infrastructure and prepared their aims quite cautiously,” Police Minister Moshe Shahal said. “We would like to know if this organization has more members. It will take a few days to receive an answer to this question.”
Shahal described the shadowy group’s motive as an attempt to halt the Middle East peace process, but he gave no details of the alleged conspiracy. Still, his statement was the government’s strongest yet that Rabin’s murder was part of an organized plot by a far-right fringe group - and not the act of a lone gunman with a grudge.
At the same time, the interim government of acting Prime Minister Shimon Peres expanded its crackdown on right-wing Jewish extremists who condone the murder and whose vitriolic rhetoric and zealously anti-Arab views may have encouraged Rabin’s assassin.
The government has pledged tough legislative measures to prosecute those who make inflammatory statements against ministers or incite others to murder, forcing several activists and West Bank settlers into hiding as police hunt them down for publicly welcoming the assassination.
“There will be freedom of expression in this country - but not freedom to murder,” Peres said. His interim government has asked the media not to report threats from people inciting violence, and it is examining options to limit the movement of extremists or to prosecute them in military courts.
Peres’ own personal security and that of government ministers has been tightened dramatically after Israel’s traditionally crack security service failed to protect Rabin adequately.
Opposition Likud Party leader Benyamin Netanyahu has been the target of numerous death threats since the assassination. Netanyahu is at the center of a storm of criticism from many Israelis who accuse him of allowing hate-filled rhetoric from the Right to escalate against Rabin, thus paving the way for someone like Amir to act.
Five days after Rabin’s assassination as he left a peace rally in Tel Aviv, news of a conspiracy dominated Israel Thursday. One of the two new arrestees, Dror Adani, 26, from the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit Hagai near Hebron, is a bearded religious yeshiva student and activist in an unidentified Jewish terror organization which advocated the murder of Rabin, according to Israel Radio.
The group reportedly is suspected of helping Amir plan the murder and two previous attempts on Rabin’s life, but details are sketchy. Adani was a friend of Amir from their days in the military’s Golani Brigade. They recently renewed their contacts when Amir wanted to introduce Adani to his sister.
A judge in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court ordered Adani held Thursday for 15 days on suspicion of complicity to murder and conspiracy to commit a felony.
The other arrestee, Ohad Skornik, 23, of Tel Aviv, was accused of knowing about the murder plan and not reporting it. He was ordered held Thursday for five days on suspicion of conspiracy to commit a felony and failure to prevent one.
Ironically, he is the son of professor Yehuda Skornik, chief of surgery at Ichilov Hospital, where doctors furiously tried to revive the mortally wounded Rabin before he died.
Already held were Amir, the confessed gunman; his brother, Hagai, 27, who admitted making the hollow-tipped bullets used in the assassination; and a third suspect, Avishai Raviv. Raviv is the leader of a small extremist group known by its acronym, Eyal, Hebrew for Fighting Jewish Organization. He is accused of conspiring to murder Rabin and failing to prevent a felony.
Security sources quoted by the Israeli media Thursday said Amir was an intelligent person who spent the last year gathering information on Rabin, and may have been influenced by one or more of those charged.
But some of the sources rejected the police view of a conspiracy. One Shin Bet official was quoted as saying he still believed Amir acted alone, or perhaps with the help of his brother.
Israel law allows a judge to order suspects held for up to 30 days while police prepare evidence for the District Attorney who eventually will bring charges, but police still do not have all the evidence, according to police ministry spokesman Eric BarChen.
“No one has said the group that is responsible is Eyal or any other known group,” Bar-Chen said. Those under arrest are suspected of conspiracy or, at the very least, of failure to prevent a felony. “Other charges may be brought against them, including providing assistance and abetting the killer.”
Shahal told Israel Television that some of those arrested knew each other as students at Bar-Ilan University north of Tel Aviv.
“We think they established a formal organization to assassinate the prime minister and other persons, based on their ideals and ideology, to try to prevent the peace process,” Shahal said. “We are in the middle of the investigation, and there probably will be more arrests in the near future.”
Related to the assassination, the Police National Serious Crimes Unit continued to search for three extremists who had welcomed the killing, and they arrested one person.
David Balahsan, 44, of Moshav Shani near the town of Arad, was ordered held by a judge for seven days on suspicion of offenses under anti-terrorism laws after he publicly condoned Rabin’s assassination.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Suspected conspirators The following are held by police in the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Yigal Amir, 25, from the Tel Aviv suburb of Herzilya, confessed to the assassination in magistrate’s court. Amir said that he acted alone. He is accused of murder, and the court gave police permission to hold him for at least 15 days pending the filing of formal charges. Dror Adani, 26, from the West Bank settlement of Beit Hagai near Hebron, suspected of murder and conspiracy. Police were given 15 days to hold him while the investigation is under way. Hagai Amir, the 27-year-old brother of the accused assassin, studied at a business school in the West Bank settlement of Ariel. He told police he gave Yigal Amir the dumdum bullets used to assassinate Rabin and that his brother admitted to him that he had attempted to assassinate Rabin twice in the past year. Avishai Raviv, 28, from the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, suspected of conspiracy and failure to prevent a felony. Raviv is the head of Eyal, an extreme right-wing movement that police suspect may be connected to the assassination. Eyal is an offshoot of the anti-Arab Kach party founded by the late Americanborn Rabbi Meir Kahane. Raviv was expelled from Tel Aviv University in 1992 after attacking a Druse Arab student. He was arrested Monday and brought before a magistrate court Wednesday. He is being held for seven days. Ohad Skornick, 23, from Tel Aviv, suspected of conspiracy and failure to prevent a felony. His father, Yehuda Skornick, is chief of surgery at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital, where Prime Minister Rabin died late Saturday. He was brought before a magistrate court Thursday, and ordered held five days. - Associated Press