Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan on Monday defended Israel’s security establishment against claims it should have thwarted the deadly terror attack in Jerusalem a day earlier that left two people dead and another five injured.
“People should look at the broader picture,” he told Army Radio, noting the recent decrease in the number of Palestinian attacks carried out during the year-long spate of violence.
“Let’s not declare there was a failure here, because there wasn’t a failure or a screw-up,” Erdan said.
Levana Malihi, 60, and police officer Yosef Kirma, 29, were both killed on Sunday morning when a 39-year-old Palestinian man opened fire on civilians and police officers near a light rail stop at Ammunition Hill.
Kirma was fatally wounded in a shootout with the terrorist, who was killed.
The attacker, whose name was still barred for publication Monday because of a police gag order, had an extensive police record, and served time in jail for inciting violence and supporting terrorism.
He was supposed to have reported to prison Sunday morning to serve a four-month sentence for assaulting a police officer, according to reports.
In the days leading up to the attack, the Hamas-linked gunman had reportedly been vocal on social media, speaking of defending Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque.
On Sunday night, Channel 2’s Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Ya’ari said the assailant had been known “for years” to the Shin Bet security agency and Israel Police, and that their assessment of the danger he now posed was incorrect.
He had been barred from the Temple Mount. He had been regarded as a troublemaker, a provocateur and an inciter, said Ya’ari. But it was not realized that he was “about to make the transition from using his fists to using a machine gun.”
Jerusalem’s police chief Yoram Halevy also appeared to wonder whether the attack could have been prevented, saying that police were monitoring “many potential attackers” and the terrorist was “one of those who certainly had the potential” to carry out an attack. He refused to elaborate.
Halevy said that the reinforced police presence in the capital had prevented an even graver attack. The killer, who reportedly used an Israeli army-issue M-16 machine gun, had “lots and lots of ammunition,” he said, and was headed to the center of town, where “he would have killed lots of people.”
Reports in some Hebrew-langue media blamed Israel’s justice system for failing to prevent the shooting.
“The attack and the failure,” was the headline on the Ynet Hebrew website on Sunday evening. “The terrorist attacked, incited and missed his hearings and was rewarded with a plea bargain and a delayed sentence.”
On Monday, a number of public figures called for a judge who had delayed the killer’s jailing to be reprimanded or disbarred.
On Sunday, Erdan told reporters at the scene of the attack that there had been no specific warning ahead of the shooting.
“In our assessments there were no warnings of a specific attack, but we assessed that because of the uptick in incitement levels, there will be incidents of lone terrorists,” he said.
Erdan pointed to what he said was an uptick in incitement to violence among Palestinians on social media, saying it was “scandalous” that Facebook in the past week had allowed the restoration of pro-Hamas pages that promoted violence against Israel and that had previously been blocked.
Erdan and other Israeli politicians have been at the forefront of a campaign to crack down on social media postings they say encourage violence, including jailing Palestinians for “inciting” posts.
Following the attack, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party praised the shooting, declaring the terrorist a “shahid,” or martyr, while Hamas hailed the attack as “heroic” and “brave.”
On Sunday evening, Israeli security forces arrested 31 Palestinians in clashes with Israeli security forces during a number of rallies in East Jerusalem held in honor of the gunman.
In his Army Radio interview, Erdan expressed harsh criticism of the Palestinian reveling in the murder of two Israelis.
“We live here alongside hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs who sanctify death, behave like animals and celebrate the murder of a man and elderly woman,” he charged.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.
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