Israeli police charge Palestinians with killing U.S. tourist

McClatchy NewspapersJanuary 26, 2011 

JERUSALEM — Israeli police arrested four Palestinian men Wednesday and charged them with a December stabbing that claimed the life of American tourist Kristine Luken.

Israeli police alleged that the men were part of a larger cell that planned and carried out several attacks on hikers in the hills around Jerusalem and the West Bank. Police said the motive was to avenge the assassination of a top Hamas militant, Mahmoud al Mabhouh, in Dubai last January.

In the most recent attack, Virginia resident Kristine Luken, 44, was stabbed to death while she was hiking in a forest outside Jerusalem. Her friend, Kaye Susan Wilson, 46, a British emigre to Israel, also was stabbed but managed to escape.

The two women knew each other through an evangelical group known as the Church's Ministry Among Jewish People. Luken made several trips to Israel as a staff member of the ministry and told friends she deeply loved the country.

On Dec. 18, Luken had gone hiking with Wilson, who lives in the settlement of Givat Ze'ev and was a trained tour guide. Wilson suggested a hike in the wooded hills outside Jerusalem to the archaeological site of Hanot.

"We had gone a bit off the trail and were sitting on a hill when two Arabs passed," Wilson said when she recounted the attack to reporters last month. She remembered feeling that something wasn't quite right, and urged Luken to return to the trail.

"We started to return. ... Then I suddenly heard something. It happened so fast. They came and they attacked us."

Wilson said that two men wielded a serrated bread knife as they threatened her friend and her. They grabbed several items of jewelry, then stabbed Wilson in the torso.

"I will never forget it. They turned me around and stabbed me here," she said, gesturing to the upper left shoulder. She said she was stabbed "more than a dozen" times, and then left for dead.

"I could feel that it didn't strike my heart. So I pretended I was dead. I could hear my friend struggling next to me. Her breath sounded like little bubbles gurgling."

. Wilson managed to escape to a nearby parking lot where picnicking family found her. Israeli police found Luken's body the next day.

Friends of Luken held a memorial service in Jerusalem. Her family flew her body back to the United States, and asked that details of the funeral remain private. They also asked that the name of her hometown not be published.

Jerusalem Police Chief Aharon Franco said the men responsible for the attack were all from the West Bank and had confessed to the attack during interrogations. They told police they had intended to kill a Jew and were surprised to discover that Luken was a Christian.

Franco told Israeli reporters that the men are being investigated for their involvement in other crimes dating to 1997. The attack on Luken and Wilson was "the thread" that connected them to other alleged crimes.

Police think the same cell killed Netta Blatt-Sorek, 53, whose body was found on a hiking trail last year near the Jerusalem-area monastery of Beit Jamal. Police also suspect the cell in two cases of attempted murder, one count of rape and seven incidents of robbery.

(Frenkel is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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