When an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier was captured by the terrorist organization, Hamas, Israel made an urgent appeal to the FBI for help in locating Israeli soldier, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul but the FBI backed away from the request due to a decision made by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s office.
Steven Emerson, a frequent writer on terrorism issues for U.S. and international publications and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism revealed on Friday on how the Obama Administration first agreed to help and then refused to locate Shaul. In his report, Emerson outlined the timeline in which the IDF had one of its bloodiest battles of the entire war with Hamas that occurred on July 19 and 20, 2014. Only days after Israel began the ground offensive against Hamas, an Israeli armored personnel carrier, with nine soldiers inside from the Golani Brigade, crossed into the Hamas stronghold of Shejaia in Gaza City. It was an older APC, built in the 1970s, and was in dubious mechanical condition. The armor protecting the APC was several inches less thick than the newer models in the IDF.
Emerson say that such an older, outdated and unprotected APC was sent into battle would become the subject of a bitter controversy within the IDF. These conditions set the seeds for a national tragedy that still haunts Israelis. Emerson said, “The Times of Israel later provided an English summary of an exclusive report from the Israeli website Walla.com that reported details it had obtained from a classified IDF report of the incident in which it described what happened next.”
That report said, “At that point, the Golani Brigade’s command, assessing that the soldiers in the APC had been killed, ordered other soldiers in the field to converge on the APC and evacuate body parts from within the vehicle. However, the soldiers were wary of nearing the APC, as they feared weaponry inside could set off a secondary explosion at any moment. The soldiers also reported hearing shouting in Arabic in the vicinity of the APC, according to Walla. Golani Command decided to summon IDF combat engineers to erect a dirt barrier around the APC and seclude it from the surrounding area.”
The report went to say, “The subsequent IDF investigation concluded that Hamas gunmen had already reached the vehicle and taken parts of Shaul’s body by this time. Hamas later released an ID photo of Shaul, along with his army ID number.”
Emerson said, “Shortly thereafter, Hamas made a startling announcement on that Sunday evening: The terrorist groups claimed it had kidnapped the seventh soldier, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul. The military wing of Hamas broadcast a statement that “Israeli soldier Shaul Oron is in the hands of the Kassam Brigades”. To prove its claim, Hamas released photos of Oron’s ID and other items he carried on him. To further bolster its claim, Hamas hacked into Oron’s Facebook page and posted claims in Arabic, Hebrew and English that it had him. Hamas taunted the Israeli public with cruel and sadistic propaganda on the hacked Facebook page.”
“Hamas terrorists were able to hack Oron’s Facebook page and may have inadvertently given away the location of the terrorists who had him or his body. That’s because whenever a Facebook account is accessed, Facebook’s servers automatically keep a record of the Internet Protocol address where the account was accessed. IP addresses can provide a location of the IP address where the Facebook account was hacked, “said Emerson.
After it was revealed of the hack, Emerson said, “Israel made an urgent appeal to the FBI for help in trying to determine the remote source or information that would be stored on Facebook servers indicating the location where Oron’s page had been hacked into. Upon receiving the request from Israel in Washington on July 21, the FBI immediately issued a “preservation letter” to Facebook ordering them to preserve all data saved on their server pertaining to the Oron’s account.”
On July 21, the FBI contacted a United States Attorney’s Office in a nearby district to initiate the legal process to get a court order to serve Facebook for server information on the account belonging to the soldier. Emerson said that in a released email, the FBI noted there was unusual activity on Oron’s Facebook account after his kidnapping and said it needed more information from Facebook that it could only obtain with a court order to be able to determine what HAMAS was doing with Oron’s Facebook account.
A day later, the US Attorney’s Office received an unexpected response from the FBI that said, “Thank You for your effort, input and assistance. I regret to inform you we have been denied approval to move forward with legal process.”
“Lingering questions remain from this episode. Senior law enforcement officials, on condition of anonymity, have told me that the withdrawal of authority to the FBI to retrieve the Facebook records for Israel came from the attorney general’s office, “Emerson said. “Why would Eric Holder’s office reverse such a request, especially since it was so urgent and came from such a close ally? And if it was not the attorney-general’s office who reversed the request, and then who did? It could only have come from someone very senior in the US government.”
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