A Palestinian man from the West Bank town of Tulkarm stabbed a dozen commuters early Wednesday morning in a terrorist attack on a No. 40 bus in central Tel Aviv.
At least four of the victims – including the bus driver, who struggled with the attacker – were listed in serious condition, while at least three others were moderately wounded, according to Magen David Adom paramedics. They added that at least 12 people had been treated for shock.
The attack began a little before 7:30 a.m. as the bus was approaching the Ma’ariv junction in the center of the city. The area was crowded with commuters on their way to work and is typically one of the busiest junctions in the city.
Eyewitnesses said the attacker began stabbing the bus driver repeatedly in the upper body. The bus began swerving in its lane as Dan Cooperative veteran driver Herzl Biton, who had been on the job for more than two decades, fought with the terrorist.
The swerving bus caught the attention of officers from the Prisons Service’s Nahshon Unit, who were driving behind the bus on their way to the Tel Aviv courthouse to pick up detainees. When the officers saw the bus come to a stop and passengers begin fleeing, they chased after the terrorist as he fled through parking lots and alleyways toward Hamasger Street.
The Prisons Service officers shot the attacker in the leg and placed him under arrest.
The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) named the terrorist as Hamza Muhammad Hassan Matruch, born in 1992, who has no history of past offenses.
He is from Tulkarm and set out from there on Wednesday morning, the domestic intelligence agency said.
During initial questioning, Matruch said he had purchased the knife in Tulkarm and carried out the stabbing spree after entering Israel illegally.
He said he had been driven by last summer’s conflict in Gaza, unrest on the Temple Mount, and watching extremist Islamist content that glorifies “the reaching of heaven,” the Shin Bet added.
Matruch was taken for treatment at a local hospital after his arrest. A remand hearing took place in his absence at the Tel Aviv courthouse on Wednesday.
The crime scene covered most of the eastern side of the Ma’ariv junction, and blood was splattered intermittently across hundreds of meters, from the bus where the attack began to where the victims lay waiting for paramedics on the sidewalks and in surrounding parking lots.
MDA paramedic Shai Pinhas, who arrived first at the scene of the attack, reported that he “saw a bus surrounded by tumult. There were wounded people walking around, some of them outside of the bus and two of them inside. Everyone was fully conscious, but with stab wounds to the chest and extremities.”
Magen David Adom released a recording of a call it had received at 7:28 a.m., in which a female caller could be heard frantically telling the dispatcher that “there is a terrorist attack on a bus, a bunch of people hurt with a knife.”
When asked how many people were wounded, she replied, “I don’t know how many. I feel blood all over my body.”
Yarkon police subdistrict commander Yehuda Dahan said an initial investigation indicated that the man had boarded the No. 40 bus somewhere in the Bat Yam area and begun his attack as the bus neared the Ma’ariv junction. He said the man appeared to have acted alone, but that authorities had not yet ruled out the possibility that he had accomplices.
Tel Aviv police chief Bentzi Sau said the man was not known to police and that they had not had any prior intelligence or warning about a planned attack.
The police raised the level of readiness following the attack and have asked the public to stay alert and not to hesitate to contact the police if they witness suspicious activity.
The previous terrorist attack in Tel Aviv was on November 10, when a Palestinian man armed with a kitchen knife stabbed a 20-year-old IDF soldier to death outside the entrance to the Hagana train station before police cornered him in a nearby building.
Wednesday’s stabbing spree created some controversy for Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who was in the middle of a workout when he received news of the attack, and did not leave immediately for the scene.
In an interview with Army Radio, Huldai said he was content to allow the police to do their work without his presence, and that he didn’t see any urgency in arriving at the scene.
“Where are you at the moment?” the Army Radio host asked the mayor.
“I just got finished with my morning workout,” Huldai said.
Asked whether he had received updates on the attack during the workout, the mayor replied, “Certainly.”
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.