The attorney of an Arab Israeli man who drove his car into two soldiers, a border guard and a civilian man in the northern city of Acre on Sunday denied that his client was a terrorist acting under ‘nationalistic motives,’ as police have claimed, ahead of an initial hearing for the case.
On Monday, a Northern District Court accepted a request by police to keep the 26-year-old suspect, whose identity remains under a gag order, in custody until March 14.
The Arab Israeli man, from the town of Shfaram, is suspected of multiple counts of attempted murder. “The motives behind the attack are nationalistic,” police said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the Shin Bet security service, which is also investigating the alleged attack, would not yet take a stance on the motives behind the ramming.
“The event is still under investigation,” the Shin Bet said.
The suspect was not in the court during the hearing, as he remains in the hospital, undergoing treatment for gunshot wounds he sustained when he was shot by a bystander aiming to stop the alleged attack.
At approximately 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, the suspect drove his car into one victim near the Acre city market. He then continued down the street and hit two soldiers. A fourth victim, a 51-year-old man, was also hit by the vehicle, medics said.
All four victims were lightly injured.
Finally, an armed off-duty soldier who was at the scene shot the driver, seriously injuring him, near the Acre train station.
After initially withholding judgment on the motive behind the ramming, the police later announced they had concluded that it was a terror attack based “mostly on findings from the scene and camera footage.”
In one video from the alleged attack, the driver can be seen avoiding civilians who were standing near his car, while he appears to target two soldiers. In graphic security camera footage, the suspect can also be seen driving full speed into a serviceman as he crosses the street.
The suspect’s attorney, Adel Dabbah, told a local Arabic-language news outlet on Sunday night that the ramming was not a terror attack, but a “road accident.”
Eyewitnesses said the ramming appeared to have been prompted by road rage over a parking ticket. The suspect had dropped his 8-month pregnant wife off at a nearby clinic for a check-up. When he came out, he received a fine for NIS 1,000 ($290) for parking in a handicap spot.
“He got annoyed and went up on the sidewalk [and] then struck a traffic light and some bushes and ran over a border guard,” eyewitness Shimon Cohen told the Ynet news site.
The suspect’s attorney said that, if nothing else, this proves that it was not a premeditated terror attack.
“Maybe there was anger by my client, but it was not planned,” Dabbah said.
The lawyer also noted that suspect’s family has a history of supporting Israel with some members having served in the Israel Defense Forces.
“In no way can the police claim that the incident is nationalistic, just because the suspect is an Arab. Anyone who knows his family knows the certainty that the incident can not be nationalistic or anything close to it. Some of them served in the army,” he said.
Michael Bachner contributed to this report.