Police bolster forces, hunt for terror cell behind deadly Jerusalem bombings
Lapid, Gantz vow to capture terrorists after attacks on busy bus stops that killed teen, wounded more than 20 others; IDF chief cuts US trip short
Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.
Police deployed bolstered forces to Jerusalem and other parts of the country Wednesday, while launching a manhunt for a suspected terror cell that detonated explosive devices at two bus stops in Jerusalem hours earlier, killing a teenager and wounding more than 20 others.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turgeman ordered that the number of officers across the city be ramped up, especially in crowded areas, police said in a statement.
Authorities aimed to increase the police presence throughout the city to give “a sense of security to all the city’s residents and visitors,” the statement said
Earlier, a senior officer said police had raised their level of alert following the bombings.
Police spokesman Eli Levy said the alert level had been raised nationwide, though the most intense focus remained on Jerusalem.
A 16-year-old yeshiva student, Aryeh Schupak, was killed and 22 people were hurt in the two attacks, including one listed as critical and another three in serious-moderate condition, according to medical officials.
The first explosion occurred close to the main entrance of Jerusalem in Givat Shaul, shortly after 7 a.m., a peak commuter hour. The second blast occurred shortly after 7:30 a.m., at Ramot Junction, where heavily trafficked roads meet, in the capital’s northwest.
Schupak, who was killed in the first bombing, was a dual Israeli-Canadian citizen.
The head of the police operations division said the “two high-quality, powerful explosive devices [capable of] a high level of damage” were hidden behind the bus stop and in a bush. The remotely detonated devices were packed with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties, according to police officials.
No group claimed responsibility for the attacks, though they were praised by the Hamas terror organization.
Details of the investigation into the bombing were placed under a gag order by a court at the request of police, but officials indicated that searches were underway for the terrorist or terrorists behind the attack.
Due to the nature of the attacks, with two near-identical bombs exploding within half an hour of each other at two bus stops, Deputy Commissioner Sigal Bar Zvi said police suspected an organized cell was behind it, rather than just one person.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid vowed that security forces would capture the terror cell.
“We will get to them. They can run away, they can hide; it won’t help them. The security forces will get to them. If they resist, they will be killed. If not, we will deal with them with the full severity of the law,” Lapid said in remarks provided by his office, following a meeting with security officials.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that those behind the attack, including planners and financiers, had “limited time” before they would be caught, following a separate meeting with military officials at IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem.
Israeli military chief Aviv Kohavi meanwhile ended a five-day trip to the US early, following the bombing attack, and the news of the body of an Israeli man being held by Palestinian gunmen in Jenin.
The military said Kohavi would arrive back in Israel on Thursday afternoon. He was originally scheduled to only depart the US on Thursday afternoon.
The decision was made following a briefing he received from army officials on recent events, the military added.
Visiting victims of the attack who were hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, presumed prime minister-to-be Benjamin Netanyahu said he would do “everything to return security” to Israelis, as he works to form the country’s next government.
“We still have a fight against cruel terror, which is again raising its head. We’ll do everything to return security to all Israeli citizens, rapidly,” Netanyahu said.
The bombings came during a time of heightened tensions, following a series of Palestinian attacks that left 30 people in Israel and the West Bank dead since the start of the year, including Wednesday’s attack.
In recent months, there have been several stabbing and attempted stabbing attacks in Jerusalem, mostly in the Old City. Last month, a Palestinian gunman killed an Israeli soldier at a checkpoint near Jerusalem.
In the spring, the military launched a major anti-terror offensive in West Bank following the attacks.
The operation has netted more than 2,000 arrests in near-nightly raids, but has left over 130 Palestinians dead, many of them — though not all — while carrying out attacks or during clashes with security forces.
Bombings on buses and in public places were a hallmark of the Second Intifada from 2000 to 2005, but mostly subsided over the last 17 years, which Israeli officials attributed to increased security measures, including the West Bank security barrier, and better intelligence.
In 2016, the Hamas terror group was accused of bombing a bus in Jerusalem, leaving 21 people injured. And in 2011, a bomb hidden in a backpack exploded at a bus stop outside the Jerusalem International Convention Center, killing two and injuring dozens more.