Bus drivers to be trained to neutralize terrorists

Transport companies unsatisfied with plan, which would see 10,000 drivers taught to handle explosives, fight with attackers

Israeli police officers stand at the scene of an attack on a Tel Aviv bus on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)
Israeli police officers stand at the scene of an attack on a Tel Aviv bus on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

In the wake of Wednesday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv, during which a 62-year-old bus driver was injured while trying to fend off the stabber, the Israeli government is advancing a plan to train drivers to handle security emergencies and neutralize terrorists.

Israeli counter-terrorism, police and Transportation Ministry officials have drafted a plan that would see over 10,000 bus drivers undergo a specialized training course, Channel 2 reported Thursday.

Still, public transport companies are calling the plan insufficient, claiming that it does not provide an appropriate response to the dangers the drivers face, the report said. They said the drivers, restricted to their seats, cannot handle emergency situations single-handedly.

Drivers will be instructed on threat detection methods, including handling explosive devises, and will receive training in Krav Maga, an Israeli martial art.

In addition, they will be granted special search and detain rights, acting as temporary law enforcement agents during emergencies.

The plan’s exact budget was not revealed, though it is expected to cost several million shekels, according to Channel 2. The draft of the plan will be submitted for the Finance Ministry’s approval, and is expected be funded by the Transportation Ministry.

“A bus driver cannot replace a professional guard, while simultaneously operating as a driver,” an unnamed representative of the Dan bus company, which operates in the Tel Aviv area, told Ynet. “The state is responsible for security. Hopefully, given the current atmosphere, the Transportation Ministry will reinstate guards and provide passengers with safety.”

In 1994, amid a first wave of Palestinian bus bombings, the Israel Police established Magen, an auxiliary unit tasked with securing public transportation passengers. At its peak, the unit was manned by 900 security guards and had an annual budget of NIS 90 million ($23 million), funded through the Transportation Ministry and the public transport companies’ earnings. The unit was dissolved in 2008.

Following the unit’s dismantlement, responsibility for securing public transport was to be transferred to the Public Security Ministry, although following warnings by then-transportation minister Shaul Mofaz, who said police were ill-equipped to handle the issue, that never occurred.

Speaking to Ynet, Israel police and Transportation Ministry officials both refused to accept responsibility.

While the Transportation Ministry claimed the government had decided to transfer responsibility to police, allocating them with a budget to fund the guards and their equipment, police claimed the security unit remained within the responsibilities of the Transportation Ministry.

Bus driver Herzl Biton, who confronted a Palestinian stabber during an attack in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Bus driver Herzl Biton, who confronted a Palestinian stabber during an attack in Tel Aviv, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 (screen capture: Channel 2)

Herzl Biton, the Dan driver who confronted the Palestinian stabber on his bus on Wednesday, was in stable condition and awake on Thursday, although he was still hooked up to life support. Doctors said his condition, previously serious, was now moderate.

Nineteen people were injured in the terror attack, which began on the #40 bus line as it passed through Tel Aviv’s busy Maariv Bridge intersection at about 7:30 a.m.

Victims of the attack said Biton’s resourcefulness had helped them flee the bus, where attacker Hamza Matrouk stabbed a dozen people during the morning commute.

The driver grappled with Matrouk, then slammed on the brakes so that the attacker stumbled on his way to stab others in the back of the bus. Biton then called his family and informed them he had been stabbed.

A friend told Channel 2 news Wednesday that the driver called him after being stabbed, telling him, “if anything happens, take care of my kids.”

The driver’s niece, Heli Sousan, told reporters that her uncle sprayed the terrorist with pepper spray.

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