CBSN

Israel Charges Palestinians in American's Murder

Palestinians suspected of killing Kristine Luken, 44, an American tourist who was stabbed to death in December 2010, are escorted by Israeli security officers as they arrive for a remand hearing at the district court in Jerusalem, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2011. Israeli police on Wednesday announced the arrests of three Palestinians in the killing of Luken, saying the men belonged to a crime ring that carried out a wave of attacks to avenge the death of a top Hamas militant.(AP Photos/Bernat Armangue)
AP Photo/Bernat Armangue
JERUSALEM - 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 of 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 thirties.

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. An additional 10 suspects involved in lesser crimes linked to the same ring, involved in break-ins and weapons possession, are also in custody, 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 her 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," according to the indictment.

In a forest inside Israel but adjacent to the West Bank they encountered Luken and a friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, a naturalized Israeli citizen from Britain.

Wilson "tried to convince them they were not Jewish, in order to convince them not to hurt them," according to the indictment, but one of the suspects grasped at a Star of David necklace around her neck, saying, "What's this?"

The suspects then stabbed both women repeatedly, killing Luken, according to the indictment. Wilson, badly wounded, played dead, eventually reaching another group of hikers before she collapsed and was taken to a hospital with multiple stab wounds in her chest.

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

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.