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Passengers recount panic and confusion during Tel Aviv attack

Prison service officer tells of giving chase and shooting stabber after seeing bus swerve

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prison service officer Beni Butrashvilli and another officer speaking to the media after a terror attack in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: Flash90)
Prison service officer Beni Butrashvilli and another officer speaking to the media after a terror attack in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: Flash90)

Eyewitnesses thrown from a work-a-day Wednesday morning into the middle of a terror attack in Tel Aviv described scenes of panic and chaos when a Palestinian man stabbed over a dozen people on a bus.

One of the prison service officers who helped bring the attack to an end told how he and fellow officers realized something was wrong when the they saw the bus ahead of them begin to zigzag down the street.

Beni Butrashvilli and other officers from the prison service’s Nachshon unit, which specializes in transporting and securing inmates, were traveling in a vehicle behind the number 40 bus when it started to weave across the road.

“I saw the bus stop on a green light and then people burst out and screamed for help,” he recalled. “We understood that it was a terror attack.”

The attacker, identified as a 23-year-old Palestinian man from Tulkarem, was shot and lightly injured before being captured.

Butrashvilli said he and the other officers sprang into action, chasing after the stabber as he tried to make his escape.

Zaka workers clean blood off the road after a Palestinian attacker stabbed people at least 10 people on bus No. 40 in Tel Aviv Wednesday. At least four victims were hospitalized in serious condition, January 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Flash90)
Zaka workers clean blood off the road after a Palestinian attacker stabbed people at least 10 people on bus No. 40 in Tel Aviv Wednesday. At least four victims were hospitalized in serious condition, January 21, 2015. (Photo credit: Flash90)

“We identified the terrorist and ran after him,” he said. “I blocked him off from one side and the other officers blocked him off from the left and shot in the air. We shot at his legs, the terrorist collapsed and fell over, and we handcuffed him and waited for the police to arrive. After we shot him in the legs he didn’t say anything.”

The attack apparently began when the assailant stabbed the bus driver in the chest as the driver, Herzl Biton, attempted to fight him off. The man then began to stab others as well.

A passenger on the bus during the attack, which left at least 17 injured, some seriously, told of the confusion as the attacker began slashing at the driver.

“I heard screams and I didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “Everyone ran to the rear of the bus. The terrorist was half a meter from me. The driver didn’t manage to open the doors. As soon as he did everybody ran out.”

Liel Suissa, an 8th grade student on the bus, said he narrowly escaped from the attacker.

“I threw my bag at the terrorist when he got close to us to keep him away. The driver slammed on the brakes when he got close to us. The terrorist went flying and I kicked the window and the window broke and so we were able to exit. Also the driver opened the door,” he said.

The attack occurred as the bus, an urban line running from Bat Yam to the the city’s north, traversed the busy Maariv Bridge intersection at about 7:30 a.m., a time when it is packed with cars, buses and pedestrians.

The driver’s niece, Heli Sousan, told reporters outside the Ichilov Hospital that her uncle was in a serious condition with injuries to his liver, and was undergoing an operation.

She said Biton sprayed the terrorist with pepper spray in an effort to fight back against the assault.

“It is awful,” she said.

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

An Israeli police officer secures the scene after a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Oded Balilty)
An Israeli police officer secures the scene after a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2015. (photo credit: AP/Oded Balilty)

Eyewitness Avi Taviv told the Hebrew media website Walla that he saw the bus stop and people pour out of it.

“I saw the terrorist run from the bus and two prison officers chase after him,” he said. “They fired in the air and told him to stop but he kept running towards Hamasger Street. They shot him and overpowered him.”

Tel Aviv District Police Commander Major General Benzi Sau, speaking shortly after the event, described the attack as “difficult and serious,” the Hebrew media Ynet website reported.

“As soon as he got on the bus he began to attack the driver with a sharp object, injured him several times, and then stabbed some other passengers,” Sau said.

“The driver’s response was excellent,” he said. “He fought back, he resisted the attack, and in so doing bewildered the attacking terrorist.”

Sau added that there was a large effort being made to identify other possible suspects involved in the attack.

“Together with the Shin Bet security service, we are making efforts to find out if he has or had helpers,” he said.

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