Bulgarian police release photo of bomb attack accomplice

Bulgarian police released a computer-generated image and a fake driver’s license photo of a man believed to be an accomplice in the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas that killed six.

The fake Michigan driver’s license is registered to Jacques Philippe Martin, but investigators have learned that the man from the photo introduced himself by other names, according to the Focus information agency.

The man appears to be wearing a wig in the license photo. It was originally believed that the license belonged to the dead suicide bomber, but it was later determined to belong to an accomplice.

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the July 18 attack on a tour bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Police bike tour seeks funds for Israeli cyclists

“We ride for those who died” — that’s the motto of the national Police Unity Tour (PUT), a grueling, three-day bicycle ride in which teams of police officers from across the United States pedal to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington, D.C. The annual spring event is held to honor the memory of officers killed each year in the line of duty.

This year, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer Lisa Herman wants to extend the tour’s motto to include a Jewish scope. Herman is gathering support to bring over two officers from Israel’s Northern Command to ride with the Southern California team in honor of Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, who died last December after sustaining critical burns in the Carmel Mountains wildfire.

Tomer, then chief of the Haifa Police Department, was driving behind a bus of prison guard cadets that was surrounded by flames en route to evacuating a local jail. Tomer, 53, had been the highest-ranked policewoman in Israel.

“The way she died was so tragic and heroic. I felt it would be meaningful to ride for her on the tour,” said Herman, a field course coordinator for the LAPD Training Division.

As the Carmel fire blazed out of control in early December, Herman watched the news in horror as more than 40 people lost their lives in Israel’s worst natural disaster in recent decades. She contacted the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles about inviting a couple of Haifa law enforcement officers to ride in the PUT, and the Israeli government responded with enthusiasm. Karen Ofer, an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) medic, and Mor Shlomo, a combat fitness trainer, were selected from among their peers to travel to the United States for the tour.

Herman, a member of the Happy Minyan, is now looking to raise $8,000 from the local Jewish community for the pair to participate. The funds would cover airfare, food and lodging, entry to the tour and bicycling equipment. So far she has raised about $7,000 from congregations including Young Israel of Century City, Beth Jacob, B’nai David-Judea and Sinai Temple, and also from the Israeli Leadership Council. The tour’s entry fees go toward the construction of a new law enforcement museum in Washington, D.C.

Herman says she would also like to raise a few thousand dollars extra to send back to Israel to help replant the charred Carmel Mountains, rebuild homes gutted in the blaze, and aid victims of burns and trauma from the area. The fire burned about 12,000 acres of land and consumed 5 million trees.

Commemorating Tomer during the 2011 tour would be especially significant because this year marks the 100th anniversary of women being able to serve in the LAPD, Herman said.

The Southern California PUT, slated for the week of May 8, will include about 200 riders from local police departments, sheriff’s departments and other law enforcement agencies. Starting in Somerset, N.J., the group will bike approximately 250 miles to the U.S. capital over three days. Along the way they will attend memorial services in the hometowns of slain officers in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Local residents and police usually come out to wave flags and show their support, Herman, who has ridden in the tour for the past three years, said.

On the third day, riders from all participating states will join ranks, and the group, expected to include about 1,500 cyclists, will ride the last 50 miles to the National Mall together. The event will culminate in a candlelight vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, at which the names of officers slain during the last year will be read. The televised vigil typically attracts up to 20,000 attendees.

Herman served in the IDF as a combat fitness trainer in the early 1990s — an experience that later led her to join the LAPD. She believes inviting Ofer and Shlomo into the PUT would help strengthen U.S.-Israel ties.

“It’s one more way for Israel to be represented in a positive light,” she said. “This is an important time for Israel to come out and talk about security, and the tour would offer a unique opportunity for [the officers] to get to know law enforcement agencies from all over the U.S.”

LAPD special forces have done joint training with Israeli officers in the past. This spring, an LAPD bomb squad will travel to Israel to glean expertise from bomb technicians there.

“Any cause that will shine a better light on our relationship with Israel is important to us,” said Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City, who helped raise funds for Herman’s campaign. “The connection between the U.S. and Israel is a strong one that goes beyond financial support. Interaction between the two countries is beneficial to both.”

Not only would the Israeli officers benefit from riding in the PUT, their presence would also be a boon to members of local law enforcement agencies, said LAPD Sgt. Gil Curtis, president of the PUT’s Southern California chapter.

“I think it would be a great opportunity,” Curtis said. With the officers riding alongside each other, “you gain a sense of camaraderie and sharing a common goal, and also being able to learn about policing issues from a different country. It would be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.”

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Wrongful-Death Claim in Burbank Shooting

The family of an Israeli immigrant killed by Burbank police is pursuing a $51 million wrongful-death claim against the cities of Burbank and Los Angeles. Assaf Deri, 25, died a year ago when Burbank undercover police officers shot him in an alley in North Hollywood.

Attorneys for the family said they filed their claim late last month, just prior to the one-year anniversary of Deri’s death, but the filing could not be verified on Friday, when the family went public with the legal action.

On June 25, 2004, plainclothes officers approached Deri after “boxing him into an alley with their vehicles,” according to the claim. A coroner’s report concluded that Deri died after officers shot him multiple times. The incident remains under investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office.

The Journal previously reported that Burbank police characterized the shooting as self-defense. Officials said that the shooting occurred after two officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street. Deri, who was alone in the car, accelerated, said police, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. Out of fear for their safety, officers opened fire. The police have declined to speak in detail about the case pending the conclusion and release of the official investigation.

The claim asserts that Deri “was not engaging in any illegal or suspicious activity, and was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” It also states that Deri had no previous criminal record. In addition, the filing alleges that officers were quick to draw their weapons because Deri looked Middle Eastern. Deri “was killed because of his race and national origin (Middle Eastern) and his religion (Jewish) and/or his perceived religion (Muslim),” in the words of the claim.

Later that night, police went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his girlfriend and his father, who was visiting from Israel, said family friends. Officers allegedly roused them at midnight, told them that Assaf Deri was dead, then held them there overnight without allowing them to make phone calls. The claim states that officers “conduced a fruitless search for contraband and/or illegal activities without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.”


Burbank Police Kill Israeli Man

Stunned friends and family members are trying to make sense of the death of Assaf Deri, a 25-year-old Israeli who was shot and killed by Burbank police officers on June 25.

Friends say the sparse details in the police report do not fit the picture of the man they knew.

"He never had anything negative to say, he only knew to give and to help and to do and to love," said Nati Goldman, a close family friend. "He was smiling all the time, joking all the time. He was an amazing person. This is a very big loss and very hard to believe."

According to a police report, Deri was driving a car around 10:30 p.m. in a North Hollywood alley, when two Burbank police detectives stopped him in connection with a felony narcotics investigation.

The detectives say that they walked toward Deri’s car, who then stepped on the gas and sideswiped one of the officers. Both detectives opened fire, wounding Deri, who was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.

The shooting comes within weeks of a public outcry over excessive use of force by police, following the release of a videotape in which an LAPD officer is shown beating a handcuffed suspect with a flashlight. On June 20, a panel found that a November 2003 shootout in which a Burbank police officer and a suspect were killed did not violate department policy.

A similar panel will investigate the Deri shooting. The Burbank Police Department has opened an administrative investigation, examining whether officers followed proper procedures.

The Los Angeles Police Department Robbery-Homicide Division and the county district attorney’s office are conducting parallel criminal investigations into Deri’s shooting to determine the circumstances of the incident and whether officers were justified in their use of force.

Once all three reports have been concluded, the district attorney will decide whether to file charges against the officers.

These investigations are standard in any officer involved shooting. Police and district attorney spokespeople said no more information would be released until the conclusion of the investigations.

But friends and family members want more information now about the violent death of a man they say was warm, giving and happy, and could not have been involved in drugs or anything criminal.

"Assaf has never been in trouble and I can’t believe the police story," Goldman said. "I can only assume that Assaf didn’t realize what was happening when the police stopped him and that he got confused."

Goldman has hired a lawyer to investigate the case.

Deri’s father, Pinchas Deri, an electrical contractor in Bet Shemesh, was two weeks into a six-week visit with his son when he was informed of his death Saturday morning.

The elder Deri was "in total shock, he doesn’t believe it really happened," Goldman said.

The father and son had traveled to Las Vegas together, and had gone to Magic Mountain and Universal Studios, spending every minute they could together over the last two weeks. The elder Deri did not leave with his son after Shabbat dinner at the Goldman’s house because Pinchas won’t drive on Shabbat during the year he is mourning the death of his father, a pious Moroccan Jew.

Goldman’s wife flew with Pinchas Deri back to Israel on Monday, when police finally released Assaf’s body. He was buried in Israel on Tuesday.

Goldman said Assaf was a sensitive man with a girlfriend and many friends. In Israel he had served in an elite undercover unit with the border police working to thwart terrorists.

Goldman, who was best friends with Assaf’s uncle in Israel, said that he met Deri three and a half years ago when Assaf joined his family for seder, soon after he arrived in the United States to work as a diamond salesman. He worked in New York for a few years, sending money to his parents and four siblings in Bet Shemesh. Deri was the oldest of five siblings — three brothers aged 22, 18 and 14, and a 5-year-old sister.

He came to Los Angeles nine months ago, and was like a family member to the Goldmans and their three children, ages 12, 13 and 5. When Goldman suffered a heart attack while in Miami four months ago, it was Assaf who stepped up to take care of the family, driving carpools and making sure all their needs were met.

"He was an extraordinary person, taking care of everybody and loving everyone. He helped everyone. My kids looked at him like a big brother," Goldman said.

Goldman said that since Assaf’s death hundreds of people have come over or called to offer sympathy, and friends prepared a memorial book to send home with Pinchas Deri.

Israeli Consul Yehoshua Avigdor, who helped arrange the Deris’ return flight to Israel, said the consulate would pressure the police to provide more information.

"Nobody understands what happened, so we are just waiting for more details," Avigdor said.

World Briefs

Pardons Not Recommended for Police

No pardons should be given to police officers involved in quelling Israeli Arab riots in October 2000, Israeli officials said. Both Israeli President Moshe Katsav and Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said the next step in examining the behavior of police, who killed 12 Israeli Arabs and one Palestinian Arab during the riots, should be the investigation recommended this week by the Orr Commission. The comments followed reports that Israel’s police chief is looking into “preemptive pardons.”

Ehud Barak, Wife Separate

Ehud Barak and his wife, Nava, are separating. Lawyers for the former Israeli prime minister and his wife said this week that the two have agreed to a temporary split. They have been married for 34 years and have three daughters.

P.A. Freezing Charities’ Assets?

The Palestinian Authority has reportedly frozen the assets of more than 30 charities, operating in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, linked to terrorist groups. The Palestinian Authority refused to comment on the report, which was filed by The Associated Press. But many Palestinians did not receive welfare checks Aug. 28 that normally are supplied by these charities.

Powell Raps Arafat

Colin Powell said the “road map” peace plan is making “slow progress.” Speaking to reporters Wednesday, the U.S. secretary of state reiterated calls for Palestinian Authority security forces to be consolidated under the direction of a single person, who would report to P.A. Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Powell also chastised P.A. President Yasser Arafat but did not respond to Israeli suggestions that Arafat might be expelled by the end of the year. If some Palestinians “don’t like the road map, I don’t know what they will like, because the road map shows the way forward to the end of violence, the end of terror and the creation of a Palestinian state,” Powell said.

Arrest Fuels British-Iranian Tension

Iranian-British tensions continue to rise following the arrest in Britain of an Iranian diplomat accused of anti-Jewish terrorism. Iran withdrew its ambassador from Britain on Tuesday, and shots were fired at the British Embassy in Tehran on Wednesday. Iran is furious over the arrest of Hade Soleimanpour, Iran’s ambassador to Argentina at the time of the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish community center, which killed 85 people and wounded 200. Soleimanpour was detained in Britain last month after an Argentine judge issued a warrant for his arrest. No one was injured in the shooting at the British Embassy, but there was damage to the building.

Missionary Cleared on Israel Spying

A Lebanese court cleared a Canadian missionary of charges of spying for Israel. The court found Monday that Bruce Balfour was guilty of stirring religious strife but sentenced him only to time served. Prosecutors had accused Balfour, who was arrested in July, of spying on Hezbollah for Israel. Balfour’s organization, Cedars of Lebanon, is dedicated to reviving Lebanon’s cedar forests.

Navigator Arad Might Be Alive

Ron Arad, the Israeli navigator captured when his plane was shot down over Lebanon in 1986, is probably still alive, a new report says. There is no evidence to refute the assumption that Arad is still alive, Israel’s Channel One reported, citing a study presented to the Israeli army’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya’alon. After Arad bailed out of his fighter plane, he was believed to have been captured and held by pro-Iranian troops in Lebanon. The last time a message was received that he was alive was in October 1987.

Minnesota Cemetery Damaged

Some 140 gravestones were overturned at a Jewish cemetery in Minnesota. Last weekend’s vandalism at the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue in Minnetonka, Minn., caused an estimated $20,000 worth of damage. Local Jewish officials believe the incident likely resulted from hooliganism, not anti-Semitism.

Record Y.U. Group to Israel

Yeshiva University is sending a record number of students to Israel. An all-time high of 675 undergraduates are heading to 40 affiliated yeshivas in Israel for their freshman year at Y.U., the New York-based flagship institution of modern Orthodoxy. Since the freshman year-in-Israel program began in 1980, 9,000 students have participated in the academic program.

Poll: Israelis Are Happy

Eighty-three percent of Israelis are satisfied with their lives, according to a new poll. The survey, conducted by the Central Bureau of Statistics for Israel’s Finance Ministry, also found that 53 percent of Israelis are optimistic about the future, 33 percent said things would remain the same and 14 percent are pessimistic. The survey questioned 7,000 Israelis 20 years and older.

‘Judge, Are You Religious?’

The Orthodox Union is joining Catholic groups in challenging congressional concern over judicial nominees who are religious. Nathan Diament, director of public policy at the O.U.’s Institute for Public Affairs, said Tuesday that several recent nominees with deeply held religious beliefs are being put to an unconstitutional religious test when senators and others in confirmation hearings ask whether their religious views will affect their ability to implement the law.

“This line of questioning either has to be laid to rest, or we really know what’s going on here,” he said.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Cycle of Bloodshed

There is a new rhythm to the terror attacks against Israelis: They are coming in one-two punches, leaving the country staggering.

On Saturday, March 2, a suicide bomber killed 11 people in Jerusalem, and the following morning, a Palestinian sniper killed 10 soldiers and settlers at an army checkpoint in the West Bank. Then on Monday, March 4, a gunman sprayed bullets at a Tel Aviv restaurant, killing three people. The following morning, a bus bomber killed a man in Afula, and a sniper killed a woman driving in the West Bank. On Wednesday, two Israeli soldiers and seven palestinians were killed as the Israeli army retaliated for a Hamas rocket attack Tuesday in the Negev.

These one-two attacks follow blistering Israeli barrages on Palestinian cities and refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, which kill 15 or more Palestinians a day. Right-wingers in the Sharon government want to use the full force of Israel’s military superiority to simply devastate the Palestinians, their leaders and the infrastructure of their society — to wage a war of unbridled destruction. The Labor Party, on the other hand, is hinting that it will leave the national unity government if the war continues to escalate with no political solution in sight.

Meanwhile Prime Minister Ariel Sharon repeats that he will not "drag Israel into a full-scale war." Instead he steadily escalates Israel’s military assaults, and the Palestinians do the same.

There are war clouds over Israel. The somberness and tension on the faces of people Tuesday morning after the lethal attacks in Tel Aviv, Afula and outside Jerusalem, were reminiscent of the mood here on the eve of the 1991 Gulf War.

Israel Television military correspondent Ron Ben-Yishai reported that security forces were currently aware of 30 different terrorists on their way to attacks in 30 different spots. Army officials say that since the start of the intifada, about 10 percent of planned attacks have been "successful." The other 90 percent have been foiled by soldiers, police or alert citizens or have gone awry, usually because a bomb failed to explode.

As the saying goes, do the math: Three out of 30 terrorists can kill a lot of people.

Israelis are reeling as terror attacks fall one after the other. People see that the government and the Army, while inflicting massive casualties and damage on the Palestinians, are not providing Israelis more security; the opposite is the case. Israelis want a solution, but they don’t want a solution that smacks of surrender, of suing for peace, because a cowering Israel would be defenseless against a Palestinian nation that smelled fear.

One sign of the unraveling of Israeli composure was seen in the pipe bombing of a Palestinian school in East Jerusalem, in which eight people, mainly students, were lightly injured. An unknown Jewish organization called, "Revenge of the Infants," claimed responsibility for the attack.

In the current situation, talk of "unilateral separation" — of withdrawing from Gaza and most of the West Bank, uprooting some 50,000 settlers and building a fortified border to keep Palestinians from entering Israel — has faded. Likewise, the recent proposal by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah — that Israel give the Palestinians Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in return for Arab recognition of Israel — isn’t being discussed seriously.

Still, few Israelis are prepared to assume control again for 3.5 million Palestinians. A majority favor land-for-peace, but in negotiations where Israel is dealing from a position of strength, or at least equality, not weakness.

Dr. Meil Pa’il, a veteran Israeli peace activist and military historian, proposes that the Army do what the right-wing wants — mop up the Palestinians, make them sue for peace but then negotiate a withdrawal from the territories. But while the current government might go along with the first stage of this plan, it is dead set against the second.

Israel’s gradual reentry into the territories is exactly what Yasser Arafat wants, says Ben-Yishai. Arafat’s strategy is to lure Israel into wreaking havoc in the territories, after which the international community would be compelled to send forces into the West Bank and Gaza to get between the two sides, thereby paving the way for the world to impose the solution it has long favored: a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, with Israel withdrawing its settlers and soldiers from those areas.

Many on the Israeli left would welcome international intervention; they are convinced the Israelis and Palestinians are incapable of settling the conflict, or even containing it, on their own. But neither the United States, NATO or any other Western power is interesting in getting involved in the Israeli-Palestinian war, and the Sharon government is not interested in welcoming them in.

The intifada’s damage to Israel is not only in security. The Finance Ministry says it has cost the Israeli economy some $5 billion — the equivalent of half the annual defense budget, or nearly two years’ worth of U.S. aid.

For the Palestinians part, they see the intifada as their "war of independence," says Palestinian affairs expert Reuven Paz. Their role model, he says, is the Algerians, who ran France out of their country after a seven-year guerrilla war that ended in 1962. The French killed over 200,000 Algerians in that war, while losing some 20,000 French soldiers and civilians. In the 18-month intifada, Israel has killed fewer than 1,000 Palestinians, while losing some 300 soldiers and civilians. The history of modern guerrilla war is a great source of encouragement for the Palestinians and of foreboding for Israel.

Berkeley Comes to Israel

At the beginning of this week, dozens of Israeli university students entered the third week of their hunger strike. The country’s 175,000 university students entered the second month of their strike from classes. Along the way students have been clubbed and even horsewhipped by police. They’ve blocked major intersections in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. At times some have even demonstrated in the nude.

All this is utterly unheard of for Israeli college students. They are among the most conservative, grade-obsessed of any in the world. The late-60s passed them by. Thirty years later they are either becoming fiercely idealistic, or are just a little over-infatuated with themselves.

The strike started out with one goal — to cut tuition in half. But after the students got clubbed and beaten for many days running — and still went into the streets by the thousands and began the hunger strike — the protest clearly became something much bigger than a fight for lower tuition.

The focal point of the protest is the hunger strikers’ tent opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. Students pace the sidewalks, shouting into bullhorns to win support from passing motorists, many of whom honk in solidarity. The strikers’ camaraderie, strengthened by taking police beatings together, is enviable. Israeli adults, including any number of politicians and public figures, come by the tent to encourage the students.

The atmosphere is heady. The watchword in the protest now is “social revolution.” The students have attracted tremendous sympathy, mainly from the middle-class left and center.

The government seems to be split over the strike. Communications Minister Limor Livnat, who began her political career as a right-wing activist at Tel Aviv University, warned that the students have “a political agenda,” meaning that they are anti-government, which the strikers deny.

Some other ministers have voiced their support for the protest. Prime Minister Netanyahu — as if he doesn’t have enough disunity in his ranks — scolded the ministers who had shown a soft spot for the students, because, he said, this weakened the government’s “solid front” against them.

But Netanyahu hasn’t been leading at the front; that task has been taken up by Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman, a 60ish, multimillionaire attorney and stern economic conservative. With his thick glasses and ponderous way of talking, he is the perfect foil for the students.

Of late, Netanyahu has stepped into the negotiations, and is trying to portray himself as understanding the students’ cause, and ready to work out reforms. He had scheduled all-night negotiations with the students Sunday night, but the strike leaders didn’t show, saying the finance ministry had been spreading “disinformation” about the protest.

The Histadrut National Union has entered into a covenant. The union pledged that if a settlement of the student strike was not reached, the union would hold a nationwide general strike on Wednesday in solidarity. Student leaders, for their part, have promised to back the union in its battles for job security and better wages and conditions for workers.

Yet while the protest has captured Israeli hearts, a cool-headed examination of the strike’s goals yields a number of doubts, and these have been expressed by critics from the left, right and center.

The key criticism is that tuition in Israel’s seven public universities currently runs below $2,500 a year — possibly the best bargain in this country. With many public school pupils going home as early as noon, with public school fees costing parents hundreds of dollars a year per pupil, should university tuition now be cut in half?

“In Israel there are at least 10 groups which a ‘social revolution’ should aid before it aids university students: residents of poor, backwater towns; single-parent families; low-ranking public servants; marginalized new immigrants; the unemployed; high school drop-outs, and the list goes on,” wrote Ma’ariv columnist Rafi Mann, who accused the students of wrapping a pocketbook-oriented strike in “pseudo-ideology.”

When Israeli university students are compared with their counterparts in the West, it is always pointed out that the Israelis have it much rougher. Because of the army, they usually don’t start university until they’re 21 or older. Many male students do weeks of army reserve duty every year. Many are married, and many work to pay their way through.

There is no tradition of “campus life” in Israel, partly because in such a small country, nobody “goes away” to college. Students stay close to their parents and friends. Unlike the West, Israelis do not “come of age” at college; they do that in the army. By the time they get to college, they’re already basically grown up. They don’t do crazy things and they don’t sacrifice themselves and risk their necks for any causes.

Until now. Maybe this is the underlying reason why the student strikers have won so many hearts (if fewer minds): they’re providing a glimpse of what Israel could be like if it were a “normal” country where young people didn’t have to spend so much time carrying guns. A place where they had the freedom to be young.