No longer ‘lone wolves,’ Palestinian attackers pair up
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Analysis

No longer ‘lone wolves,’ Palestinian attackers pair up

Wednesday morning's terror attack in Eli highlights a new pattern of 'cooperative' strikes in twos and even threes

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Illustrative: Palestinian members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement, raise their weapons during a rally to support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government on March 1, 2016, in the West Bank Balata refugee camp near Nablus (AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)
Illustrative: Palestinian members of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement, raise their weapons during a rally to support Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his government on March 1, 2016, in the West Bank Balata refugee camp near Nablus (AFP / JAAFAR ASHTIYEH)

The terror attack Wednesday morning in Eli, in which local resident Roee Harel was injured and the two terrorists killed, highlights the shift in recent weeks in the modus operandi of Palestinian attackers, away from the hitherto lone-wolf style of the current wave of violence.

The attackers are now setting out in pairs, sometimes even in threes, to kill Israelis. Palestinian youths who decide to carry out an attack seem to understand that doing so with a partner or two at their side offers the possibility of causing far greater harm.

Acting in a “cell” or group can also help keep morale high, particularly when the members are friends who support and encourage each other, helping to sustain the motivation to attack until the moment of action.

The Eli attack was carried out by two 17-year-old Palestinians from the village of Qaryut, Labib Azzam and Mohammed Zaghlwan. They went to high school together, and according to family members in the village, attended evening prayers at the village mosque together the night before the attack, prior to disappearing from the village.

It’s reasonable to assume that the two planned the attack ahead of time and did not decide impulsively to carry it out early Wednesday morning. It’s also safe to assume that the simple fact that they acted together helped them pass the long hours of the night in anticipation of the attack.

Roee Harel, victim of the attack in Eli, is seen at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on March 2, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Roee Harel, victim of the attack in Eli, is seen at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem on March 2, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

We’ve seen this pattern in several recent incidents. We saw it in the January attack in Beit Horon, for example, in which the two terrorists who killed Shlomit Krigman, were relatives Ibrahim Al’an and Hassin Abu Ghosh — the former from the Qalandiya refugee camp and the latter from the village of Beit Ur al-Tahta — though they didn’t live in the same place or attend the same school.

Shlomit Krigman, 23, who was killed in a terror stabbing on January 26, 2016, in the settlement of Beit Horon, in an undated Facebook photo
Shlomit Krigman, 23, who was killed in a terror stabbing on January 26, 2016, in the settlement of Beit Horon, in an undated Facebook photo

They connected over Facebook, which has become a key platform for young Palestinian terrorists to incite one another to new attacks. Before leaving their homes for the attack, Al’an and Abu Ghosh posted on the social network that they were “going out to hunt porcupines.”

In the attack two weeks ago at the Rami Levy supermarket in Sha’ar Binyamin, in which Tuvia Yanai Weissman was killed, too, three terrorists acted together: one from Beitunia near Ramallah and the other two from the Jalazoun refugee camp. They were well known to the guard at the supermarket because they had shopped there in the past, and one was once caught trying to steal from the store.

In the February 3 attack at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, in which Border Police officer Hadar Cohen was killed, three terrorists from the town of Qabatiya in the northern West Bank acted together: Ahmed Abou Al-Roub, Ahmad Zakarneh and Mohammed Kameel. They first met at the school they all attended. The three spent the night before the attack in al-Ram, north of Jerusalem, and the following morning set out to the capital together.

Israeli security forces monitor the area where a Palestinian man tried to stab Israeli soldiers before being shot dead at a checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank, February 26, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Israeli security forces monitor the area where a Palestinian man tried to stab Israeli soldiers before being shot dead at a checkpoint near Ramallah in the West Bank, February 26, 2016. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

These are just a few examples of the new pattern.

The situation has been repeated in the spate of recent shooting attacks in the Ramallah area, which have been traced to three distinct cells – not individuals working alone.

We will likely see more of this new type of cooperative terror attack in the coming weeks.

But this is not the only pattern discernible in the latest wave of attacks. We can learn something important about the fact that most attacks now take place only on particular days and hours. The number of attacks spikes from Thursday to Sunday, and drops precipitously during the rest of the week.

For example, in Silwad northeast of Ramallah, a village with a mixed population of wealthy families and loyal Hamas supporters, nearly every Friday afternoon for weeks has seen an attempted car-ramming attack. The attackers are in no rush to attack after midday prayers, the most important prayer time in the Muslim week, but rather wait until after the afternoon prayers before getting into their cars and attempting to kill soldiers and others on nearby roads.

Throughout the West Bank, the most popular time for a shooting attack has been Sunday evening.

These patterns seem immune to the changing weather. In the past, blustery conditions would keep the terrorists home, with few attacks launched during cold, rainy nights. This new batch does not seem to care much about the weather.

A case in point is the Beit Horon attackers, Al’an and Abu Ghosh, who were on the verge of hypothermia by the time they arrived at the settlement and set about killing 23-year-old Krigman.

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