A young truck driver from the Arab village of Kfar Qasm left behind a trail of lethal destruction in south Tel Aviv on Sunday morning after ploughing into several vehicles on Rehov Bar-Lev, in what police suspect to be a deliberate lone-wolf terror attack that left one man dead and 17 people lightly to moderately injured.
"Based on the level of destruction, and the number of people who have been injured and one person killed, it looks as if this was deliberate, but the investigation is still ongoing," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, speaking from the scene.
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The driver later claimed during questioning that he lost control after experiencing a punctured tire, though his claim is being treated with skepticism by police. Nevertheless, police have refrained from officially declaring the incident to be a terror attack by Sunday night.
The 20-ton Volvo truck, driven by a 22 year-old man who cannot be named due to a court-ordered media ban, departed Kfar Qasm on Sunday morning, and entered Tel Aviv via Route 4, driving through the Mesubim Junction. As the driver approached the Hatikva neighborhood, he struck and ran over several cars, including a blue Volkswagen car driven by 29-year-old Aviv Morag, who was instantly killed.
Morag, of Givataim, was on the phone to his father, David, when the conversation abruptly ended, his stunned father later said. He only learned of his son's fate later, after being contacted by a passer-by who called a business number that was advertised on the vehicle.
The truck driver continued on, smashing into a black jeep, a white Fiat car, flattening a road sign, and striking other vehicles, before suddenly swerving into the opposite lane and smashing sideways into an Egged bus that had just dropped off its last passenger.
The two badly damaged vehicles came to a stop side by side, showering the pavement with glass and debris, and denting a gate outside the Eliyahu Golomb elementary school, where terrified pupils gathered around windows.
"Suddenly I saw this truck driving fast in my direction, running over cars. As it approached me, I jumped out of my seat and hit the bus floor," the bus driver, Meir Levi, told Channel 2 news from his hospital bed.
"I exited the bus, and so did the truck driver. He hit someone with a piece of wreckage. I shouted out, 'this is a terrorist!' People then got a hold of him," Levi recounted.
A number of eye witnesses said they heard the driver shout "Allahu Akbar!" as he drove the truck.
A passer-by named Arik Levi told Israel Radio he initially thought the driver had just lost control of his brakes, and approached the truck to offer the man his assistance.
Levi said he ran up to the driver, and that the two struggled for a short time, before police arrived at the scene and arrested the truck driver, whisking him away from a crowd of furious local residents to the Yiftah police station.
Relatives of the driver denied that the incident was terrorism-related, saying it was a standard accident, and that the driver had no links with terrorist organizations.
The suspect has been working as a truck driver for six years, relatives said.