A Palestinian man was shot dead by police in Jerusalem Monday afternoon moments after commandeering a construction excavator, mowing down and killing a pedestrian, and then overturning a bus in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Shmuel HaNavi.
Less than three hours later, an IDF soldier was seriously wounded after being shot in the stomach at a bus stop near the capital’s French Hill neighborhood by an assailant who fled the scene by motorbike.
According to police, both incidents have been deemed unrelated terrorist attacks.
The first incident took place at approximately 1:30 p.m., shortly after Muhammad Naif el-Ja’abis, in his twenties, stole the excavator from a nearby construction site and ran over 29-year-old Avraham Wallis, and wounded three other pedestrians, before flipping the bus over, police said.
Wallis, a father of five, lived in the capital’s Mea She’arim neighborhood. He was buried Monday night on the Mount of Olives.
The bus’s Arab driver, Abed Alahi, 31, and a sole passenger were treated along with the other victims for light wounds at the scene before being transferred to Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus and Shaare Zedek Medical Center.
Police said Ja’abis, from the Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber near East Talpiot, had a lengthy police record.
He was killed moments after overturning the bus, upon being shot repeatedly by an officer on site who sustained an injury when he was thrown from the excavator while attempting to turn off the ignition switch.
Magen David Adom paramedic Eli Smadar, who was one of the first emergency responders to arrive at the scene, said he saw Ja’abis’s bullet-ridden body still in the driver's seat when he treated Alahi and the five other victims.
“It then became clear that another person was injured in the attack approximately 100 meters from the bus,” Smadar said of Wallis, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
As a police helicopter hovered above the site of the attack, and mounted police ensured that thousands of concerned haredim remained behind metal partitions cordoning off the upended bus, dozens of officers and a forensics team secured the area.
Less than five meters from the bus, the lifeless hand of Ja’abis could be seen on the pavement, while the remainder of his corpse was covered with white tarp.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who was at the scene, said an intensive investigation has been opened to determine if Ja’abis was aided or acted alone.
“[The driver’s] whole family is being interrogated,” he said. “We want to know who sent him, if he was acting alone, whether he belonged to a network – all those things are being checked.”
After the attack, police rounded up a number of Palestinian workers from a nearby construction site and protected them out of concern that they would be attacked by the crowd of angry bystanders.
In a subsequent interview with Channel 2, Aharonovitch added that the nearly four-week-long Gaza war had raised fears of attacks in Israeli cities.
“From the moment fighting started in the South, we realized such an incident of a lone attacker can happen, and such tractor attacks are familiar in Jerusalem,” he said.
Indeed, the capital has a history of similar deadly attacks. Three people were killed in Jerusalem during two incidents in July of 2008, when construction vehicles stolen by Palestinians struck Israeli buses and pedestrians. In both episodes, the terrorists were shot dead.
Shortly after Monday’s attack, witness Moshe Cohen said the suspect was shot multiple times after repeatedly ignoring police orders to stop.
“An officer came with a gun and shot him, but he didn’t stop, so he shot him again and again,” he said.
According to another witness, Erez Maspan, at least six shots were fired.
Gila, a teenage girl living a few meters from the scene, who requested that her last name not be published, was badly shaken by the violence.
“I heard a big, big boom and then [gun] shots,” she said. “I went out and saw the tractor trying to push the bus over and people shouting ‘No! No! No!’”
She continued: “He was trying to tip the bus over to kill as many Jewish people as he could, but only the driver was inside, and he was Arab.”
Yitzi Isaac, a yeshiva student in the area, said that within minutes of the attack hundreds of soldiers and police swept nearby buildings to search for other possible terrorists.
The violence took place near the Mir Yeshiva, one of the country’s largest institutions, an hour after thousands of students were dismissed from class early for the day to prepare for Tisha Be’av, which commenced Monday evening.
Student Ahron David Grossberg said he suspected the attack was intended to coincide with Judaism’s annual day of mourning the destruction of the First Temple and the Second Temple, among other tragedies.
“We left early because of Tisha Be’av, and every day we go to the bus stop near where this happened, so it is very possible this whole thing was premeditated,” he said. “He could have killed or wounded dozens of students because it’s packed during this time of day.”
Less than three hours later, a soldier was shot in the stomach by a terrorist who then escaped on a motorbike that awaited him near a bus stop in the French Hill section of the city.
While details of the attack remain unclear, according to police the unrelated incident took place near Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.
“Multiple shots were fired, and one man was hit in the stomach and rushed to the hospital in moderate-to-serious condition,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. “Police units are now searching the area for the motorbike the suspect fled on and hope to make an arrest shortly.”
Meanwhile, the Hebrew University released a statement shortly after the shooting, denying media reports that it was related to its Mount Scopus campus.
“Reports of a security incident at the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus are false,” the statement read. “The campus is safe and secure. All is normal and operations are continuing as usual.”
A police spokesman said officers are working in coordination with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and other security units to investigate both of Monday’s attacks.
While there were no immediate claims of responsibility, a Hamas spokesman lauded the violence as heroic.
“We praise the heroic and brave operations in Jerusalem, which come as a natural reaction to the crimes and massacres by the Occupation against our people in Gaza,” the spokesman said.
In the meantime, MDA director Eli Bin said workers nationwide will remain on high alert and are “prepared for any scenario whatsoever,” in all regions of the country.