A Palestinian bulldozer driver went on a rampage in downtown Jerusalem on Tuesday, wounding at least 24 people, just weeks after a similar attack in the capital left three dead.
The driver was identified as a 22-year-old resident of East Jerusalem who held an Israeli ID card. Police sealed off possible escape routes into the predominantly Arab area of Jerusalem and were searching for two suspects who fled the scene, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
One of the wounded was in serious condition and the rest sustained light wounds. They were taken to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem for treatment.
The driver of the tractor struck a bus and at least five cars before being shot dead by security forces, Jerusalem police said.
Television footage showed an elderly woman being wheeled into an ambulance and rescue personnel assisting visibly shocked passersby. A mother and her 9-month-old son were among the lightly wounded.
The copycat attack occurred on the corner of Keren Hayesdod and King David streets in downtown Jerusalem, down the road from the hotel where U.S. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was to be staying later in the day.
“The bulldozer driver left a construction site, and hit two cars,” a police spokesman said. “A civilian who saw what was happening, shot him. The bulldozer continued on its way. A Border Police patrol… continued to shoot and the terrorist was killed.”
An eyewitness said that the whole incident took place in less than a few minutes.
“One car flipped over and others were crushed. I started running in the direction of the tractor. People regained their composure within seconds. A guy from Susya, near southern Mount Hebron, shot him in the head and a few minutes later a Border Police officer shot him as well,” the witness added.
The driver of the bus said he was chased by the assailant, who raised the shovel of his front-end loader.
“I was driving on the main road when the (construction vehicle) hit me in the rear, on the right hand side,” driver Avi Levi said.
“After I passed him he turned round, made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head, he came up to my window and I swerved to the right, otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker,” Levi said.
Witness Moshe Shimshi said the driver of the construction vehicle, who was wearing a large, white skullcap commonly worn by religious Muslims, slammed into the side of the bus, then sped away and went for a car.
“He didn’t yell anything, he just kept ramming into cars,” Shimshi said.
“The driver then headed for cars waiting at a red light and rammed into them with all his might,” he added.
Shimshi said he stopped his motorcycle and ran toward the construction vehicle when he saw another man running at it from another direction.
The civilian who shot the terrorist that steered the bulldozer has been identified as Ya’akov Asahel, a 53-year-old resident of the West Bank settlement of Susya in the southern Hebron hills.
Asahel, a graduate of the Netiv Meir religious seminary, is also a platoon commander in the Israel Defense Forces’ Armored Corps as well as one of the first settlers in the southern Hebron hills area. An agrarian by trade, he works as a gardener and a religious instructor in the high school yeshiva of the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba, just outside of Hebron.
The head of the southern Hebron hills regional council, Zviki Bar Chai, himself a resident of Susya, said Asahel was an energetic type with a strong, athletic build. “He’s a combination of an intellectual and a man tied to the land, a very assertive and special man,” Bar Chai said. “A man of Torah and work.”
On July 2, a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem plowed a bulldozer down Jaffa Road, Jerusalem’s main thoroughfare, killing three people. He was not known to be affiliated with any Palestinian militant group.
“This was another attempt to murder innocent people in a senseless act of terrorism,” said government spokesman Mark Regev. “All people who believe in peace and reconciliation must unequivocally condemn this attack. Unfortunately, it is clear that we as a society will have to remain vigilant against terrorism.”
Minutes after the attack, the driver, wearing shorts and black shoes, was sprawled backward in the construction vehicle’s cabin, his legs dangling lifelessly.
Firetrucks had massed at the scene, where the smell of gas was wafting and liquid had spilled on the ground.
Sirens wailed in the background, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.