Two East Jerusalem men were released by the Shin Bet on Thursday afternoon, hours after they were arrested in an hour-long manhunt across the Tel Aviv area, saying they had determined there was no reason to suspect them of planning a terror attack.
For a solid hour Thursday morning the Tel Aviv area was on high alert as undercover and special police units and Shin Bet officers descended upon the Givatayim area, searching for what police described as “a suspicious vehicle”.
Security officials did not suspect the vehicle was a car bomb; rather that it was transporting at least one person suspected of plotting an attack.
As the manhunt intensified, police closed off the HaShalom Bridge intersection and the Mozes Bridge, snarling Thursday morning traffic in Tel Aviv.
A little over an hour later, police announced that the incident was over, and that two men had been arrested and handed over to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) for questioning. Both of the men are residents of East Jerusalem, the Shin Bet said, adding that intelligence collected by the agency identified the two men as persons of interest.
By late afternoon however, the Shin Bet said that they had released the two men and that they did not suspect either of plotting a terror attack.
The false alarm followed an incident in Haifa in the morning, when a soldier on a train fired a warning shot into the air amid fears that a knife-wielding man was on board.
Coastal District police said the incident began Thursday morning when a number of soldiers thought they saw a suspicious man and began screaming “terrorist”, after which an IDF officer sitting in a separate car on the train and fired into the roof of the train.
The train continued along the tracks until the emergency brakes brought it to a stop. Haifa Police then boarded the train and after a short search ruled that there was no attacker on board and the train continued northward to the next stop.
Also Thursday morning, Israeli news sites reported that an Arab man had been arrested near Kfar Chabad with a number of knives and alternately either a Hamas flag or flag of Saudi Arabia.
A spokesman for the Central District told The Jerusalem Post
that the man is a construction worker for Taibe who had a couple of knives in his vehicle along with the rest of his tools and that the flag was for the Israel Islamic Movement. The spokesperson said the man does not have any criminal or security background and that police don’t have any indication he was planning an attack.
On a daily basis this week false alarms have circulated quickly across the country, as Israelis – many of them glued to their cell phones – have passed along online rumors spread on WhatsApp and initial, unconfirmed reports by Israeli outlets working at a breakneck pace. In many cases the incidents have involved “criminal stabbings” with no terrorism angle, or there have simply been no incident at all.