Judge sets bail for Indiana woman accused of driving into building she believed was 'Israeli school'

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — An Indianapolis woman accused of backing her car into a building she believed held an “Israeli school" was ordered Wednesday by a judge to stay away from synagogues and other Jewish religious and cultural centers.

Ruba Almaghtheh, 34, was formally charged Tuesday with intimidation, criminal recklessness and institutional criminal mischief, all felonies. A Marion County judge entered a not guilty plea for her and set her bond at $200,000 during her initial court hearing Wednesday.

Two adults and three children were inside the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge on Saturday when Almaghtheh allegedly backed into it and shouted “Free Palestine.” No one was injured.

Her attorney, Gary Colasessano, told The Associated Press that his client doesn't remember driving into the building. He said he believes she experienced an “episode,” possibly due to several medications she takes for physical disabilities and the mental stress of a pending divorce while caring for her three children.

According to a probable cause affidavit, Almaghtheh told officers at the scene that she had been watching TV coverage of the war in the Middle East “and decided to plan an attack by crashing into the building on purpose because she observed a symbol located on the residence that she took high offense to and related it to being an Israeli school.”

The front of the building has a “Hebrew Israelite” symbol resembling a Star of David with lettering, the affidavit says.

The Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge is in fact listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center among various groups it terms “Radical Hebrew Israelites,” and which the law center has designated a “hate group,” noting its ideology has become increasingly antisemitic, anti-white, anti-LGBTQ, xenophobic and misogynistic since the 1960s.

The leader of the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge in Indianapolis, Captain Chaapash Yahawadah, said Wednesday it is part of an international organization with several schools, including some in the United Kingdom. He said it is challenging the Southern Poverty Law Center's designation.

A man who had been sitting in a car outside the school building told police he watched a woman put her car in reverse and back directly into the building, the affidavit states. He told police he went to check on the driver and she "immediately starting ranting, yelling `Free Palestine, Free Palestine'" and accused him "of sending money to keep her people oppressed."

The affidavit said another man who came out of the building after hearing a “big boom" told police the woman made similar comments to him. The court record said the building sustained about $10,000 in damage.

Colasessano said his client is Muslim and is a U.S. citizen originally from Jordan who has no previous arrest or criminal record. He was not aware of any ties to Palestine but said that before Saturday she had been watching “the constant barrage of news about the war in Gaza" and became overwhelmed.

He said Almaghtheh recently filed for divorce after her husband left her and moved to Africa. He said she has also been under a doctor’s care for several physical ailments that cause her physical pain.

He said her $200,000 bond is “astronomically high” given the charges.

A deputy prosecutor wrote in a motion seeking the greater than standard bond that Almaghtheh “intentionally crashed her vehicle into a building that she believed was home to a religious or cultural center that supports Israel.”

At Wednesday's hearing, a judge set a bail review hearing for Nov. 17 and approved a no-contact order ordering Almaghtheh to stay away from the Israelite School of Universal and Practical Knowledge and “all synagogues, temples, and other Jewish religious and cultural centers in Marion County.”

“The allegations in the probable cause affidavit are extremely disturbing. We cannot and will not tolerate hate in our community,” Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears said Wednesday in a statement.