Israel charges Gaza engineer as rocket mastermind

By Rami Amichai

BEERSHEBA, Israel (Reuters) – Israel charged a detained Palestinian engineer on Monday with hundreds of counts of attempted murder, accusing him of developing missiles that the Islamist group Hamas fired from Gaza against Israelis.

Dirar Abu Sisi, a director of the Gaza Strip’s sole power station, has said he was illegally kidnapped by Israeli agents during a visit to Ukraine in February and has accused Israel of fabricating the allegations.

A court in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba handed down a 15-page indictment covering 2002-2008, finally revealing the charges at the heart of the mysterious case.

“Abu Sisi was engaged in the development of missiles to be launched by Hamas, including increasing their range and ability to pierce steel so as to penetrate armored vehicles and thus strike at soldiers,” a summary of the indictment said.

“Abu Sisi is accused of nine charges regarding activity in a terrorist organization, hundreds of counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder and production of weaponry offenses,” it added.

Hamas and Palestinian militants have repeatedly launched rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, most notably in 2008 when Israel says some 3,000 projectiles were fired across the border, sparking a three-week Israeli offensive.

The militant group has said Abu Sisi was not a member.

Before seeing the indictment details, Israeli media had speculated that Abu Sisi might have had some knowledge of the whereabouts of Gilad Shalit, a soldier abducted by Gaza militants in a cross-border raid in 2006.

But there was no mention of this in the charge sheet.

“All these charges are fabricated after (Israel) found out that I am not involved in the (Shalit) case. Now they are fabricating charges,” Abu Sisi said on Monday.

UKRAINE CONNECTION

His lawyer suggested on Monday that he might have admitted to some offenses, but said he was interrogated under duress.

“During the investigation, he came under very intense pressure, which I cannot detail, but that was probably illegal, and this led him to admit things that are not true,” lawyer Smadar Ben-Natan told reporters, without elaborating.

Monday’s indictment names a Ukrainian professor at the Kharkov Military Engineering Academy as Abu Sisi’s mentor. It said “Konstantin Petrovich” was an expert in Scud missile control systems.

“Abu Sisi acquired extensive knowledge in missile development, control systems, propulsion and stabilization. Parallel to his work as an engineer for the Gaza electric company, Abu Sisi secretly joined Hamas,” the summary said.

Sisi is married to a Ukrainian and his relatives say he went to Ukraine legitimately to arrange residency there for himself and his family.

The Kharkov Military Engineering Academy was closed in 1993 and merged with another military school, which in turn became part of the Kharkiv Air Force University in 2003, according to the university website.

Ukraine has said it is investigating Abu Sisi’s disappearance. Israel has not provided details on how he came into its custody, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week it was a “legal arrest”.

The court extended Abu Sisi’s remand until at least May 16, the justice ministry said.

(Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev, writing by Ori Lewis and Dan Williams; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Susan Fenton)

Israel charges Gaza engineer as rocket mastermind