Police raise terror alert to highest level; 42 arrested over deadly Jerusalem attack
Shortly after announcement, 13-year-old shoots, wounds two in 2nd attack; police chief sends elite counterterror team to capital; concerns over potential right-wing revenge attacks
Police said Saturday that they were raising the national alert to its highest level after seven people were killed and three wounded in a terror attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood on Friday evening.
An hour after the announcement, two people were shot and seriously wounded in a second attack that was carried out by a 13-year-old outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai ordered that a team of officers from the elite Yamam counterterrorism unit be stationed in Jerusalem following the two attacks.
Senior police officials told the Kan public broadcaster they would increase forces across the country, especially in the capital. In addition to the bolstering of police, IDF chief Herzi Halevi issued instructions to increase forces in the West Bank and along its security barrier, and to prepare for potential escalation in the region.
Police have also said they were concerned about possible “price tag” revenge attacks against Arabs.
An unnamed security source told the Walla news site that the defense establishment was deeply aware of the potential for escalation by Jewish right-wing extremists.
“When the prime minister called yesterday for people not to take the law into their own hands, it was not just based on a feeling,” they said, referring to comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “There is a very great fear that something will happen to set the area on fire. The security establishment is aware of this.”
Police officials told the Ynet news site that the three major events set to take place in Tel Aviv on Saturday evening — the mass demonstration against the judicial overhaul, the soccer derby and a concert by Eyal Golan — would be secured and held as planned.
Organizers of the protest said the rally would begin with a minute’s silence and there would be no music at the event as a mark of respect for those killed and injured in Jerusalem. A demonstration was also to be held in the capital, as well as in Haifa, Beersheba and a number of other locations across the country.
Police said Saturday that 42 people were arrested in connection with Friday’s deadly attack in Neve Yaakov, many of them relatives or acquaintances of the terrorist, 21-year-old Alqam Khayri — a resident of East Jerusalem with no history of prior terror-related offenses.
Palestinian media said the gunman’s father was among those summoned by police for questioning.
Security officials told the Walla news site that Khayri had shown relatively advanced shooting skills during the attack, and an investigation was underway to examine whether he had received weapons training.
Police on Saturday continued to push back against eyewitness claims that forces had taken around 20 minutes to respond, saying that officers had engaged with the terrorist and shot him dead around five minutes after they received initial reports of the attack.
“When we approached the area of the attack, we noticed the attacker’s vehicle fleeing the scene. We started chasing the terrorist, fired in his direction and the vehicle stopped,” said a police officer identified only as Maj. G. “The terrorist got out and started shooting in our direction. At that point we got out of the car, and neutralized [the terrorist], thus preventing further killing of innocents.”
According to police, Khayri arrived by car at 8:13 p.m. at the synagogue in the East Jerusalem neighborhood on Friday evening and opened fire at people outside the synagogue and other passersby.
Two of the seven people shot and killed were named Saturday as couple Eli and Natali Mizrahi.
Eli’s father, Shimon, said the pair had gone outside to try and help those who had been shot, when they were killed by the terrorist at point-blank range.
Eli, 48, and 45-year-old Natali had been married for just two years.
“We were in the middle of our meal, and there were several shots and my son jumped up. We yelled at him, ‘Don’t go anywhere,'” Shimon said.
“It seems that he was speaking with the terrorist, who pulled out a gun and killed him. [Eli] and his wife were murdered,” Shimon said. ‘[The terrorist] was standing next to his car and he shot them. He got into the car and ran away.”
The other five victims killed when a terrorist opened fire on Friday evening were not immediately named.
At least three others were wounded — Hadassah’s Mount Scopus Hospital said Saturday morning that a 15-year-old boy injured in the attack was now fully conscious and his condition defined as moderate.
However, a 24-year-old remained sedated on a ventilator. His condition was serious but stable. In addition, a 60-year-woman was also in moderate condition.
With seven killed, the shooting in Jerusalem was the deadliest terror attack since 2011, when terrorists crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, killing eight Israelis. It was the deadliest Palestinian terror attack since 2008, when a gunman from East Jerusalem killed eight Israeli students at the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the capital.
Friday’s deadly attack came following days of violence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Tensions have increased dramatically since Thursday morning, when an Israel Defense Forces raid in the West Bank against a terrorist cell left nine Palestinians dead — most of them gunmen and members of the cell, though at least one civilian was also killed.
The IDF said Thursday’s operation in the Jenin refugee camp was necessary to foil imminent attack plans by a local Islamic Jihad terror cell. The group had primed explosives and firearms, according to the IDF.
Hamas praised Friday’s attack as a response to Thursday’s IDF operation, but no terror group took responsibility for it.
Thursday overnight saw rocket fire from Palestinian terror groups in Gaza and Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
Tensions were also high in Jerusalem and the Temple Mount on Friday, though Muslim prayers proceeded without issue.
AFP contributed to this report.