Shireen Abu Aqleh
Shireen Abu AqlehReuters

The US government has informed the Israeli government that the FBI has opened an investigation into the death of Shireen Abu Aqleh, the Al Jazeera journalist who was shot and killed while covering a firefight between IDF soldiers and Arab terrorists in Jenin in May, Kan News reported.

An Israeli official said that US officials had informed the Justice Ministry of the move and stated that the US may ask Israel to hand over materials related to the case.

On May 11th, 2022, as part of Operation “Break the Wave”, IDF soldiers carried out a series of counterterrorism activities in the Jenin area to prevent terrorism. In the weeks preceding the operation, 19 people were murdered in terrorist attacks, 11 out of which were carried out by terrorists from the area of Jenin. The counterterrorism activity took place in a densely populated civilian area. During the activity, wild and indiscriminate gunfire was shot toward IDF soldiers by Palestinian gunmen, at the time and in the area in which Shireen Abu Aqleh was killed. The gunmen also hurled explosives at the soldiers and IDF military vehicles. Near the end of the activity, the journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh was hit.

Since the incident, the IDF has thoroughly reviewed the circumstances of Ms. Abu Aqleh’s death. For that purpose, the Chief of the General Staff appointed a dedicated task force, led by COL Meni Liberty, to examine the incident. The task force consisted of IDF commanders and additional relevant personnel.

The results of the IDF's investigation were presented in September. The investigative team concluded that while there was a 'high possibility' that Abu Aqleh was accidentally struck by a bullet fired by an IDF soldier, it was not possible to determine with any certainty that that is what occurred. In addition, the bullet which killed her proved to be too damaged to determine which gun it had been fired from upon analysis under the supervision of professional representatives from the U.S. Security Coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (USSC).

“According to the investigations and their findings, it appears that it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Aqleh. However, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Aqleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire in which life-threatening, widespread and indiscriminate shots were fired toward IDF soldiers. It is also important to emphasize and clarify that throughout the entire incident, IDF gunfire was fired with the intent of neutralizing the terrorists who shot at IDF soldiers. An additional possibility is that Ms. Abu Aqleh was hit by bullets fired by armed Palestinian gunmen toward the direction of the area in which she was present in,” the report said.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said in response to the publication of the results of the IDF's investigation: “We welcome Israel’s review of this tragic incident, and again underscore the importance of accountability in this case, such as policies and procedures to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future."

In July, the US released the results of the ballistic examination of the bullet which Abu Aqleh

The State Department said: "After an extremely detailed forensic analysis, independent, third-party examiners, as part of a process overseen by the U.S. Security Coordinator (USSC), could not reach a definitive conclusion regarding the origin of the bullet that killed Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh. Ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged, which prevented a clear conclusion."

However, several key Democratic lawmakers expressed dissatisfaction with the IDF's investigation, with Democratic Senators Chris Van Hollen and Patrick Leahy attempting to pass motions requiring the State Department to conduct its own investigation into the incident.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the Biden Administration's decision to launch its own investigation a "mistake."

“The IDF has conducted a professional, independent investigation, which was presented to American officials with whom the case details were shared. I have delivered a message to US representatives that we stand by the IDF’s soldiers, and that we will not cooperate with an external investigation,” said Gantz.