Israel Police made a number of arrests in the wake of the deadly terror attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem on Friday morning, which claimed the lives of two Israeli police officers, and officers were on the hunt for additional suspects who may have helped the three Israeli-Arab perpetrators, police said.
Raids were also conducted on the homes of the terrorists, all from the northern Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm, and a mourners’ tent for the terrorists was broken up.
Channel 10 reported Friday that among those detained were at least one official from the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Jordan-based organization that administers the Temple Mount, on suspicion that the shooters received help from inside.
The channel said the official was seen on security footage behaving suspiciously.
Police also said they arrested one person, a 22-year-old from the northern city on suspicion he was directly involved in the attack.
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Police have not indicated what kind of assistance they believe the Waqf official provided, though Channel 10 said he may have helped the shooters stash the weapons used in the attack. A gag order was imposed on further aspects of the investigation relating to the Waqf.
Channel 10 noted the situation was complicated by the fact that the custodian group answers to Jordan, not Israel.
Channel 2 news said more vaguely that it was possible that the terrorists had received help from inside the compound, and that this was one of the reasons why police had ordered the closure of the area, for the first time in decades, will they carried out security checks.
The terrorists, Muhammad Ahmed Muhammad Jabarin, 29, Muhammad Hamad Abdel Latif Jabarin, 19 and Muhammad Ahmed Mafdal Jabarin, 19, used two Carlo-style submachine guns and a pistol to carry out the attack. One of them also tried to stab an officer after being apprehended.
After the shooting, the terrorists fled toward the Temple Mount and other officers gave chase. The police then opened fire, shooting the terrorists dead inside the complex.
In footage released by police Friday, the terrorists can be seen running armed from the Temple Mount into an alleyway where the officers, Haiel Sitawe, 30 and Kamil Shnaan, 22, were stationed, and shooting them.
Reports throughout Friday said the two police officers were killed just outside the Temple Mount compound. However, Channel 2 news reported late Friday that the second policeman may have been killed by the assailants on the mount itself, after they had fled back.
It was not immediately known how the terrorists brought the weapons into the holy site. Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount complex go through a less rigorous security check than non-Muslim visitors who enter through the Mughrabi Bridge.
Jerusalem Police chief Yoram Halevi said Friday that officers were sweeping the Temple Mount, with the help of the Waqf, to look for further weapons.
After the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting with top defense officials, during which they decided to close the holy site for the day, a dramatic move given that Fridays are a holy day in Islam, when many travel to the Temple Mount to pray.
Israel closed the compound for the first time since 1969, saying it was carrying out security checks, including for further weaponry.
Halevi enforced the decision, ordering the complex cleared and the entrances to the holy site closed. Police also placed checkpoints at the entrances to the Old City.
Following the sweep operation, Halevi said he would give his recommendation to the government on whether to reopen the site, the holiest in Judaism.
Jordan had urged Israel, which is responsible for security at the site, to “immediately reopen” the Haram al-Sharif compound, as it is referred to in Arabic. The site also houses the Dome of the Rock sanctuary and is the third-holiest site in Islam.
“Israel must reopen Al-Aqsa mosque and the Haram al-Sharif (compound) immediately,” said government spokesman Mohamed Momani, who is also information minister.
He added in a statement carried by the official Petra news agency that Israel must “refrain from taking any step aimed at changing the historical” status quo.
Israel has repeatedly denied seeking to do so, including on Friday.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is responsible for the police, called the attack “an extremely serious event which crossed all red lines. The investigation is ongoing. We will need to reevaluate all of the security arrangements on the Temple Mount and its environs. I call on all public leaders to act to calm the situation and ensure quiet in Jerusalem.”
In the aftermath of the attack, many right-wing politicians and activists called to change the long-standing arrangements at the holy site that allow Muslim prayer there but forbid Jewish prayer and religious rituals.
However, Netanyahu fended off those requests with a blunt statement from his office saying, “the status quo will be protected.”
Following the attack, Israel briefly detained then released the grand mufti of Jerusalem.
His son said he was released without charge after being questioned over his call for Muslims to come to Jerusalem following the closure of the Temple Mount to worshipers in the wake of the attack.
In a speech in the Old City, the cleric had condemned the closure, which Israel said was done for security reasons, including to search for weapons.
Hussein called on Muslim masses to flood to the holy site, and condemned what he called Friday’s Israeli “aggression” there, Army Radio reported — a presumed reference to the closure of the site and/or to Israeli forces’ shooting of the assailants.
No terror groups took immediate responsibility for the attack, though Hamas did praise it, saying it was a “natural response to Israeli terrorism.”
AFP contributed to this report