A military court in the Kiryat army complex in Tel Aviv handed down a guilty verdict to Sgt. Elor Azariya Wednesday morning.
Azariya, accused of manslaughter after shooting a wounded terrorist in Hevron on March 24th, 2016, claimed that he opened fire on the terrorist as an act of self-defense, arguing that he feared the terrorist was attempting to detonate an explosive device.
Following the decision by the court, Azariya is expected to be transferred immediately from the court to prison, even before a final sentence is handed down. Azariya will likely receive his sentence in February. He could face up to 20 years in jail.
During the exhaustive two-and-a-half-hour explanation and reading of the verdict on Wednesday, Judge Maya Heller stated that in the view of the court, "there was no immediate danger from the terrorist lying on the ground,” rejecting the foundation of the defense’s claim. Heller added that in the court’s opinion, the defendant contradicted himself on several occasions.
“The accused opened fire against the [army’s] rules of engagement,” said Heller. “The terrorist was not a threat. The accused denied the claims against him and argued that the terrorist did in fact constitute a threat. He argued that… there was a concrete threat to him and his peers due to concerns that [the terrorist was armed] with a [concealed] knife or explosive device.”
Heller added that shouting heard at the scene of the attack, which included claims that the terrorist appeared to be concealing a bomb and exhorting those in the area to keep their distance, did not justify Azariya’s actions.
The ruling also touched upon the rules of engagement themselves, restricting the ability of soldiers in the future to open fire – even when they believe their lives to be at risk.
“Henceforth,” said Heller, “justifying opening fire [with intent] to kill based only upon suspicions [of threats] will be forbidden.
“Even if we were to accept the [defendant’s] version of the story regarding his suspicion [that the terrorist was carrying] a bomb, it would not justify shooting. There is no justification for shooting when there is only suspicion of a threat, [and not] definitive identification of a weapon.”
The court also rejected testimony by Dr. Yehuda Hiss, former head of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, who had argued that the terrorist was not killed by the shot fired by Azariya, but had in fact already succumbed to injuries caused by the initial shooting which neutralized.
Outside of the court, hundreds of protesters demonstrated against the ruling, facing off against 350 police officers deployed around the Kirya compound.