A 19-year-old border policewoman was killed and another female officer critically wounded in an attack Wednesday at Damascus Gate by three Arab terrorists wielding machine guns, pipe bombs and knives.
All three assailants were shot dead at the scene. Their explosives did not detonate and were later neutralized by a police bomb disposal team.
The commander of the Border Police team that killed two of the attackers said that he saw two of the terrorists shortly after 2 p.m. sitting on a bench wearing jackets, and that when he approached them they seemed to be uneasy.
He said he asked them for their identification cards, at which point one of them stood up, pulled a gun from his jacket and hit the officer over the head with the weapon.
The officer said he saw the terrorist point his gun at him and try to fire, at which point he said he pulled his service pistol and turned to see an attacker stabbing a woman on the ground.
The officer said he then shot and killed that attacker and then turned to see someone else shooting the terrorist who trained the gun on him.
A police officer at the scene said that he followed a group of people running and saw a man with a black T-shirt who he realized was one of the attackers. He said he and other officers opened fire, stopping the man.
Avshalom Peled, the deputy chief of the Jerusalem police, said that the police do not believe that the Border Police officers were the target and were likely waiting for their real target when the officer approached them.
Border Police Cpl. Hadar Cohen, 19, died of her wounds shortly after being rushed to Hadassah-University Medical Center at Mount Scopus. Her unidentified partner was seriously wounded and underwent emergency surgery there.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, who was at the scene, described the violence as a planned attack.
“The attack was carried out a few minutes ago by three terrorists who opened fire using automatic weapons as well as using knives, and our police officers who were hit were taken to the hospital in critical condition,” he said.
“One of the officers was shot and the other was stabbed.
After police cordoned off the area, two pipe bombs were discovered that the terrorists carried but did not explode.
Our bomb disposal experts are being very cautious at the moment to safely detonate them.”
Magen David Adom paramedic Nisan Heifetz said both female officers were critically wounded with neck and head wounds when he arrived.
“One was stabbed and one was shot in the neck and head,” he said.
Heifetz said the bodies of the terrorists were cordoned off to allow police to search for more weapons, and for forensics officers to gather evidence.
The three terrorists have been identified as Ahmed Rajeh Zakarneh, Muhammad Ahmed Kmail, and Ahmed Najeh Abu al-Rub – all from the town of Kabatiya in the Jenin area.
Zakarneh was a childhood friend of another Palestinian, Ahmed Awad Abu al-Rub, who was killed three months ago when he tried to carry out a stabbing attack at the Jalama checkpoint in Jenin. On his Facebook page, Zakarneh posted a photo of himself at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where he is seen carrying a sign reading, “We are proud to be Muslims.”
The Palestinian Authority did not issue any official reaction to the Jerusalem attack.
The PA’s official news agency, Wafa, carried a terse report headlined, “Three youths martyred in Jerusalem.” It said the three were killed “under the pretext that they carried out a shooting and stabbing operation.”
Hamas “welcomed” the terrorist attack, saying it constituted a “severe blow” to Israeli security measures.
Hamas spokesman Hussam Badran praised the terrorists as “heroes,” noting that they had managed to travel from Jenin to Jerusalem, despite IDF checkpoints and security measures.
“This and other operations affirm our people’s determination to continue the intifada despite all the obstacles,” Badran said in a statement. “This operation carries a clear message to the occupation that the ongoing aggression on al-Aksa Mosque wouldn’t pass without a real response.”
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group also applauded the attack and called on the PA to halt security coordination with Israel.
“This operation underscores the political and security failure of the occupation in Jerusalem,” the PFLP said. “It comes in the context of the continued resistance to end the occupation and expel the settlers from our land.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened top security officials Wednesday evening and decided to surround the terrorists’ home village and conduct arrests, as well as reinforce troops in Samaria.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, Police Insp.-Gen. Roni Alsheich, newly appointed Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and a senior Shin Bet official took part in the discussions.
Shortly after the attack, President Reuven Rivlin said he spoke with Border Police Dep.-Ch. Yossi Poni, who updated him on the details of the incident.
“I heard from him how the alertness of our Border Police officers served again as a wall of defense, and I asked him to express my support to all of the fighters,” Rivlin said.
“Together with the entire nation of Israel, I am praying for the recovery of the wounded. To you, the Border Police forces – men and women, protectors of the walls of Jerusalem – I thank you in the name of the nation for your service fighting against the murderous terrorism that sees no boundaries.”
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who went to the scene of the attack, also commended the officers for saving lives and vowed that the terrorists would not prevail.
“I want to commend the police of Jerusalem,” he said. “What they have actually done is once they realized terrorists were going to carry out an attack, they approached the suspected terrorists and hand-to-hand combat took place, where unfortunately two of the security officers of Jerusalem were shot and knifed.”
“However, their very swift response neutralized the threat, and the three terrorists were killed,” he continued. “What we need is high alert, well-spread security forces, a will to engage, to end it swiftly, and to move on with our lives.”
Addressing rattled residents of the city during a press conference, Barkat implored all citizens to maintain their daily lives.
“The message I have to the residents of Jerusalem and the people of Israel is: We will move on. We will continue with our lives, with our plans, and thank the police and security forces who did a respectable, good and professional job today.”
Asked by a foreign correspondent what his message is to the people around the world who want to come to Jerusalem, Barkat said Jerusalem remains safer than most international cities.
“Well, I gotta tell you, we’re one of the safest places in the world,” he said. “Check out our statistics: We have the best police in the world, we have the best security forces, and per capita we’re as safe as London, when you check the numbers.”
“So, actually,” the mayor continued, “when I go to America, I pray to safely come home to Jerusalem, because the crime rates in America are six times more per capita than in Jerusalem. So, honestly, if you really want to be safe, come and visit us in Jerusalem.”
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.