Many question why gunman in Hebron was armed

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JERUSALEM — The biggest question in the wake of an Israeli soldier's shooting spree in Hebron last week was how an allegedly mentally unstable youth was drafted into the army and given a gun. Many Israelis who know Noam Friedman, the Hebron gunman, portrayed him as a mentally troubled loner who should never have been armed.

"I'm not at all surprised that he carried out the attack," said a soldier who had gone through basic training with Friedman, who opened fire on Palestinians in a Hebron marketplace Jan. 1.

"I don't know how they gave him a gun," the soldier added. "At the shooting range, we always looked around to see where Noam was and what he was doing with his gun."

Friedman, 22, of the West Bank town of Ma'aleh Adumim, outside Jerusalem, did not serve in Hebron, but was in an administrative unit.

A religious Jew, Friedman said he felt compelled to stop the Hebron redeployment from being carried out and was seeking to avenge the killings of Hebron massacre gunman Baruch Goldstein, Rabbi Meir Kahane and soldier Nachshon Waxman, who was abducted and killed by Hamas radicals.

Friedman emptied one cartridge of 20 bullets from his M-16, injuring six people in a crowded Hebron street New Year's Day.

Reports that Friedman had suffered from psychological problems in the years before his compulsory army service have sparked wide debate over why he was drafted and issued a weapon.

Rabbi Motti Elon, who heads the Horev Yeshiva High School in Jerusalem that Friedman attended until last year, said last week he was "extremely surprised, to say the least, that the boy was ever accepted in the army. He suffers from serious mental problems and personality disorders."

Elon told Israel Radio's evening news magazine that Friedman "is sick and I had recommended myself that he not be conscripted or accepted for military service."

The principal said Friedman had sought his help several months ago in getting him out of the army.

"The only question mark is what he was doing in the army and why the army ignored his condition," Elon said.

Friedman is being held for 15 days pending further court action. In the days after the attack, police disclosed that a friend of Friedman's was suspected of being an accomplice in the act.

Police said Yuval Jibli, 21, of Jerusalem, allegedly colluded with Friedman and failed to prevent him from carrying out the criminal act.

Jibli, who was on the same army base as Friedman, allegedly went to a nearby Arab village the day of Friedman's attack and fired shots in the air.

Police and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency also are investigating whether additional accomplices were involved.

In the days after the attack, Friedman's mother, Riva, apologized on Israel TV for her son's actions.

"We are deeply sorry about the event," she said. "We wish good health for the wounded and we share the families' sorrow.

"We are in shock. We disapprove of any kind of violence. We believe in peace and tolerance between us and our Arab neighbors. I don't know what happened to my son."

Several people who know Friedman said he has a history of emotional problems, had seen an army psychologist several times, and spent time in an army jail.

The soldier who knows him said Friedman was very quiet, almost never spoke to his fellow soldiers or looked them in the eye, and acted as if he had been given a gun to kill Arabs.

"Still echoing in my head are my company commander's shouts to demand that Noam [hold his gun at a safe angle] so he wouldn't injure anyone," the soldier said.

During his detention hearing, Friedman said he was trying to block a Hebron disengagement by Israel because "our forefather Avraham bought Hebron for 400 shekels and the city belongs to us."

Under heavy security early Tuesday morning, Friedman was taken back to Hebron to demonstrate how he launched his attack.

He told investigators that when he first entered the market area, a mechanical problem prevented his army-issued M-16 from firing.

Friedman said he then walked to the Beit Romano complex of the Jewish quarter and fixed the problem before returning to the market and opening fire.