Jerusalem truck attack: Suspect, 4 slain soldiers identified

The driver who plowed a truck into a group of soldiers in Jerusalem, killing four people and injuring at least 10, may have been an ISIS sympathizer, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Three of the four killed were females. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said three of the slain were cadets and one was an officer. All of the slain victims were in their 20s.

Israeli police shot and killed the attack suspect, who they identified as 28-year-old Fadi Qunbar. Police have also arrested nine other suspects, including five of Qunbar's family members.

Speaking from the scene of the attack, on a promenade overlooking the walled Old City of Jerusalem, Netanyahu said authorities have identified the terrorist and "all signs show he is a supporter of the Islamic State."

Earlier, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told CNN "there are no potential active ISIS cells here in Israel."
"A group had gotten off the bus and were getting organized with their bags when the terrorist took the opportunity, ramming his truck into the group," Rosenfeld said.

"Then he in fact reversed and tried to ram them again until shots were fired, and the terrorist was shot and killed at the scene."

The four soldiers killed in the Jerusalem truck attack Sunday have been identified by Israel Defense Forces. They are:
-- 2nd Lt. Yael Yekutiel, 20, of Givatayim
-- Cadet Shir Hajaj, 22, of Maale Adumim
-- Cadet Shira Tsur, 20, of Haifa
-- Cadet Erez Orbach, 20, of Alon Shvut

Several other officers and cadets were injured and evacuated to hospitals for medical treatment, IDF said.

Israel will now consider using administrative detention against suspected ISIS sympathizers and supporters, according to an official familiar with the decision.

In a statement, the US State Department condemned the "glorification of terrorism now or at any time" and said "there is absolutely no justification for these brutal and senseless attacks."

Netanyahu said police had sealed off Qunbar's predominately Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem while they investigate.

"We know there is a sequence of terror attacks and it's quite possible that there is a connection between them, from France, Berlin and now Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.

In a statement, Jerusalem's mayor, Nir Barkat, said there was "no limit to the cruelty of the terrorists who use every means to murder Jews and damage the routine life in the capital of Israel."

While no group has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, Hamas, the militant fundamentalist Islamic organization, praised the attacker on Twitter.

"We bless the courageous and heroic truck operation in Jerusalem," the group tweeted. "It comes within the context of the normal response to the crimes of the Israeli occupation."

Hamas' goal is the creation of an Islamic fundamentalist Palestinian state and they insist that Israel is an occupying power and must be destroyed.

Diplomatic tensions have flared between the US and Israel in recent weeks after the Obama administration decided not to veto a UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel and its construction of new settlements in East Jerusalem.

Israeli security forces and medics gather next to a flatbed truck at the site of a ramming attack in Jerusalem on January 8, 2017. (AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

At Least 4 Dead In Jerusalem Truck-Ramming Attack

JERUSALEM, Jan 8 (Reuters) - A Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem on Sunday, killing four of them in an attack that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said is likely to have been inspired by Islamic State.

It was the deadliest Palestinian attack in Jerusalem in months and targeted officer cadets as they disembarked from a bus that brought them to the Armon Hanatziv promenade, which has a panoramic view of the walled Old City.

The military said that a female officer and three officer cadets were killed and that 17 others were injured. Police said three of the dead were women.

Police identified the truck driver as a Palestinian from Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and said he was shot dead. His uncle, Abu Ali, named him as Fadi Ahmad Hamdan Qunbor, 28, a father of four from the Jabel Mukabar neighborhood.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that nine Jabel Mukabar residents, including five members of the attacker’s family, were arrested on suspicion of aiding the attacker.

The Israeli military regularly takes soldiers on educational tours of Jerusalem, including the Armon Hanatziv vantage point.

Netanyahu visited the scene and convened his security cabinet, a forum of senior ministers, to discuss Israel’s response. He said that security forces were controlling access in and out of the neighborhood.

“We know the identity of the attacker. According to all the signs he is a supporter of Islamic State,” the prime minister said.

A government source said that ministers had called for the demolition of the attacker’s home and for his body not to be returned to the family for burial. It also decided to detain without trial persons expressing sympathy for Islamic State.

Roni Alsheich, the national police chief, told reporters he could not rule out that the driver had been motivated by a truck ramming attack in a Berlin Christmas market that killed 12 people last month.

“It is difficult to get into the head of every individual to determine what prompted him, but there is no doubt that these things do have an effect,” Alsheich told reporters.

In another attack claimed by Islamic State and involving a truck driven into a crowd, nearly 90 people were killed in the French city of Nice in July.

STREET ATTACKS SLOWED

Actions inspired by Islamic State in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem have been rare and only a few dozen Arab Israelis and Palestinians are known to have declared their sympathy with the group.

A wave of Palestinian street attacks, including vehicle rammings, has largely slowed but not stopped completely since it began in October 2015, with 37 Israelis and two visiting Americans having been killed in these assaults.

At least 231 Palestinians have been killed in violence in Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the same period. Israel says that at least 157 of them were assailants while others died during clashes and protests, blaming the violence on incitement by the Palestinian leadership.

The Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank, denies that allegation, and says assailants have acted out of frustration over Israeli occupation of land sought by Palestinians in peace talks that have stalled since 2014.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, routinely praises those who carry out street attacks, and did so on Sunday.

“We bless this heroic operation resisting the Israeli occupation to force it to stop its crimes and violations against our people,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum told Reuters.

Security camera footage showed the truck racing towards the soldiers and then reversing into them.

A security guard identified only as “A” told Channel 10 how he shot at the truck and its driver.

“I shot at a tire but realized there was no point as he has many wheels, so I ran in front of the cabin and at an angle, I shot at him and emptied my magazine,” he said.

“When I finished shooting, some of the officer cadets also took aim and also started firing.”

The footage showed many of the soldiers fleeing the scene as the attack took place, their rifles slung on their shoulders.

As a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, the truck driver would carry an Israeli identity card and be able to move freely through all of the city. Israel considers all of Jerusalem its united capital, a stance not supported by the international community.


Four Israeli soldiers killed in truck attack in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM — A Palestinian driver intentionally rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers Sunday, killing four and wounding a dozen on a picture-postcard promenade overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City and a park called the “Peace Forest.”

The assault occurred just blocks from the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem and down the street from the United Nations headquarters.

The dead soldiers — three women and one man, all in their early 20s —were part of a large group of officer cadets who were getting an educational tour.

Israeli officials quickly labeled the truck-ramming a terrorist attack and said the driver was from a nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood.

The Islamist militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, applauded the “heroic operation” but did not take responsibility for it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, visiting the scene several hours after the attack, said the assailant showed “all the signs he was a supporter of the Islamic State” militant group.

It was one of the deadliest attacks in more than a year of stabbings, shootings and vehicular assaults by Palestinians. It comes just a week before a planned conference in Paris that seeks to push Israelis and Palestinians to restart their stalled peace talks.

Leah Schreiber, a tour guide escorting the soldiers, said she saw the truck accelerate and jump the curb, plowing into uniformed troops who had just exited their bus.

“It took a few seconds to understand what was happening,” Schreiber said. “That this was a terror attack.”

Graphic surveillance video from the scene shows a large white Mercedes-Benz truck careening into the soldiers and then rapidly backing up in circles, running over the wounded, as the soldiers fled.

Eitan Rod, an armed tour guide, told Israel’s Army Radio that he was chatting with several officers when he saw the truck roaring toward him. He dived onto the grass.

“I saw the truck start to reverse and then I already understood that this was not an accident,” he said. “I felt that my pistol was still on me, so I ran up to him and started emptying my clip. He went in reverse and again drove over the injured.”

Rod told Israeli television that he wondered why army officers at the scene did not immediately open fire. He blamed Israeli military authorities, who last week convicted a soldier of manslaughter in the killing of an unarmed Palestinian assailant in Hebron as he lay wounded.

Israeli army spokesmen, however, countered the claim of hesitancy by releasing a video of a soldier describing how he fired his rifle at the driver, who was shot dead in his truck.

Chen Lendi Sharon, a paramedic with the Magen David Adom emergency service, said he arrived to a chaotic scene, with wounded soldiers trapped under the truck.

Police chief Roni Alsheich said there was no warning before the attack.

“You don’t need more than two to three seconds to find a terrorist target. The soldiers at the scene reacted immediately and killed the attacker,” he said.

Rescue workers said three women and a man were killed in the attack. Israel later identified them as Lt. Erez Orbach, Lt. Shira Tzur, Lt. Shir Hajaj and Lt. Yael Yekutiel.

In a statement, Netanyahu described the attack as “part of the same pattern inspired by Islamic State, by ISIS, that we saw first in France, then in Germany and now in Jerusalem,” referring to rampages by truck drivers at the seaside corniche in Nice in July and the Berlin Christmas market last month.

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS, asserted responsibility for the attacks in France and Germany, declaring that its “soldiers” were responding to its call to target nations fighting the group in Iraq and Syria.

Netanyahu did not immediately offer any evidence that the Jerusalem attack was inspired by the Islamic State or that the assailant was a supporter of the group.

There have been many similar attacks by Palestinians that have been inspired by nationalistic, religious and personal motives, and not the Islamic State, according to Israeli security officials.

Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, said the Sunday attack was driven by the upcoming Paris conference.

“The world has received a clear answer from the Palestinians to the peace conference coming up in Paris: more terror,” Hotovely said in a statement.

Palestinian leaders have stressed that they support the conference as a way to avoid violence — not stoke it — by seeking a peaceful resolution through international diplomacy and renewed talks with Israel.

Arab-language news media identified the truck driver as Fadi al-Kanbar from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber. Israeli TV reports said Kanbar was in his 20s, married, with children.

In Washington, Mark Toner, deputy spokesman at the State Department, said, “There is absolutely no justification for these brutal and senseless attacks. We condemn the glorification of terrorism now or at any time and call on all to send a clear message that terrorism must never be tolerated.”

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