Two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “all signs” indicate the terrorist who plowed into a group of soldiers in Jerusalem was a supporter of the Islamic State, security officials said Tuesday that they couldn’t confirm the prime minister’s claim, but only that Fadi al-Qunbar had been “exposed” to the group’s propaganda.
On Sunday, Qunbar, 28, of Jabel Mukaber in East Jerusalem, drove his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers as they were getting off a bus at a promenade in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood in the capital, killing four of them and wounding more than a dozen.
The attack in Jerusalem quickly drew comparisons to truck-rammings allegedly carried out by Islamic State members in Germany last month and in Nice, France, in July.
“According to all the signs, [Qunbar] is a supporter of the Islamic State,” Netanyahu said on Sunday.
“We know that these are a series of attacks and there definitely could be a link between them, from France to Berlin, and now Jerusalem,” the prime minister added.
On Tuesday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said the Shin Bet security service believed the attack was committed extemporaneously.
“According to a Shin Bet assessment, this attacker did not even plan to do it. He was in a truck, he was a resident of Israel with an Israeli ID card, saw the soldiers and decided to run them over, to imitate what happened in Berlin and Nice — that’s the phenomenon with which we have to contend,” Deri told Army Radio.
However, on that point as well, security officials were far more circumspect.
“We know that the terrorist was exposed to Daesh materials,” a security official told The Times of Israel, using the Islamic State’s Arabic nickname.
“Beyond that, things are still in the investigative stages, and we cannot determine definitively if it was planned in advance or if others were aware [he planned to carry out an attack], or if he had help,” the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The claim that Qunbar carried out his attack on the spur of the moment was first made by Netanyahu on Monday.
“I think the most important thing to understand is that we are under a new kind of attack by a lone wolf that gets inspiration and decides in a moment to act, in this case with a car-ramming,” the prime minister said, outside a Jerusalem hospital where some of the victims of the attack were being treated.
Relatives and neighbors said the attacker, a father of four, espoused an ultra-conservative version of Islam, known as Salafism, but had no known ties to Palestinian terror organizations.
In addition, they said Qunbar was motivated to act after hearing a sermon at his local mosque attacking US President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“He was very angry, and said transferring the embassy would lead to war,” Qunbar’s cousin said, according to the Israel Hayom daily.
A previously unknown terrorist group, the “martyr of Baha Alyan collective,” claimed credit for Sunday’s attack. But this has not been verified by any of Israel’s security services. The group takes its name from a Palestinian terrorist who, with an accomplice, killed three Israelis on a bus in Jerusalem in 2015.
In the wake of the truck-ramming attack, some nine people were arrested by police, including five family members of the terrorist, to determine if the driver of the truck had received help or if they knew about the attack ahead of time.
Qunbar’s father and sister, who were among those arrested, were released by a Jerusalem court on Monday, against the requests of police to keep them in custody.
Judge Sharon Lary-Bavly ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to keep the two in custody, and released them under restrictive conditions.
IDF Lieutenant Yael Yekutiel, IDF Cadet Shir Hajaj, IDF Cadet Erez Orbach and IDF Cadet Shira Tzur, who were killed in the attack, were buried on Monday.