Murder suspect's flight to Israel stumps US police

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Israel is refusing to extradite 17-year-old Samuel Sheinbein to the US, where he is accused of murdering another teenager and cutting off his arms and legs with a circular saw before burning the body.

Patrick Cockburn in Jerusalem reports on the bizarre turn of the murder case which has angered the Americans.

The case against Samuel Sheinbein is simple. Police in Rockville, Maryland, just outside Washington, want to arrest him for murdering Alfredo Tello, 19, whose burnt and limbless body was discovered in the garage of a vacant house on 17 September. The police say they have evidence that Mr Sheinbein had access to the house next door and may be linked, through a receipt found near the body, with the purchase of a new circular saw.

The problem is that within three days of the murder, Mr Sheinbein fled to Israel where he is automatically a citizen because his father was born in Palestine, as it was then called, in 1944, and only emigrated to the United States in 1950.

Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, has asked for "maximum co-operation" from Israel in extraditing the teenager, who is in a psychiatric hospital after taking a non-life threatening drug overdose. Israel has offered, as an alternative, to put him on trial itself. But prosecutors in Maryland say they doubt if witnesses would fly half round the world to give evidence in a court in Tel Aviv.

Mr Sheinbein's claim to the protection of the Israeli state is a little slender since he had never lived in the country and the government hopes to get off the hook by having his citizenship ruled invalid. But, in the meantime, US congressmen are even threatening to cut aid to Israel until Mr Sheinbein is extradited.

The motive for the crime is a mystery. Mr Sheinbein, a lanky teenager who towers over the Israeli police, has affluent parents and was said to be studying hard for his exams. Also accused of the murder is Benjamin Needle, 17, who is said by his parents to be addicted to marijuana and alcohol and to have spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

On 16 September the two teenagers are said to have met with a third, "Freddy" Tello, who worked in a tropical fish shop in Rockville, Montgomery county. "A guy in a green Firebird pulled up; there were two of them in the car," Adam Moore, another employee in the store, told reporters. "Freddy was in a pretty good mood. The other two looked kind of bored."

It is not clear what happened next. Eyewitnesses say they saw the two accused struggling with a garden cart later found near the body. A trail of blood leads from the Sheinbeins' garage to the street. Freddy Tello's dismembered body was found the next day. He was finally identified from dental records. Benjamin Needle was arrested, but Samuel Feinstein disappeared and flew to Israel. Samuel's father, Sol, and brother, Robert, followed him to Israel, where they were arrested by police who said they had assisted his flight and were disrupting the investigation.

US prosecutors are aghast. "It's our murder," Robert Dean, the Montgomery county state attorney, told the Washington Post newspaper. "What we much prefer is having Mr Sheinbein return and be held accountable under American law."