Barkan terrorist made 'almost no mistakes' while on the run

Some terrorists from Sunday’s Ofra attack may still be at large, officer says

Warning comes hour before a second shooting in the same area kills two and injures two, as West Bank sees uptick in violence

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers, medical officials and police inspect the scene of a terrorist shooting attack near the Givat Assaf settlement outpost in the central West Bank on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Israeli military on Thursday said it may not yet have arrested all of the suspects in a drive-by shooting attack earlier in the week outside the Ofra settlement, in which seven Israelis were injured, including a seven-months pregnant woman whose baby died as a result of the attack.

“We’re still in the midst of a manhunt,” a senior officer in the IDF Central Command said on Thursday morning, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity.

Just over an hour after the officer made the remark, a second terror shooting was carried out near Ofra. Two people were killed and two were seriously injured when a gunman opened fire at them as they stood at a bus stop along the Route 60 highway, less than two kilometers (1.25 miles) from the scene of Sunday’s shooting.

The shooter and the man who drove him to the scene both fled the area following Thursday’s attack, prompting a large-scale manhunt. The Israeli military said it did not yet know if the two shootings were conducted by the same terrorist cell or if Thursday’s was a “copycat” attack.

Israeli soldiers guard the scene of a shooting attack near Givat Assaf, in the central West Bank, on December 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Late Wednesday night, Israeli security forces conducted a series of raids in the Ramallah area to find the terrorists responsible for Sunday’s shooting. At least four suspects were arrested and one, Salih Omar Barghouti, 29, was shot dead after troops said he tried to attack them while attempting to escape in the village of Kobar, outside Ramallah. Hamas later claimed Barghouti as a member.

“Hamas is the most violent group in [the West Bank], and it is trying to carry out terror attacks all the time. In something like 90 percent of the cases, with significant effort we succeed in thwarting them,” he said.

The West Bank has seen a significant increase in the number of attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers in recent weeks, after months of relative calm in the area, raising concerns of a potential renewed outbreak of regular, serious violence in the region.

Before dawn on Thursday, a Palestinian man also stabbed two Border Police officers in the Old City of Jerusalem, lightly injuring both of them. In the struggle with him, the officers shot the terrorist, killing him, police said.

Barkan terrorist was ‘lucky’

The Central Command official also discussed a predawn raid Thursday that ended a two-months-long manhunt to find the Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a brutal terror attack in the northern West Bank, in which he killed two coworkers and seriously injured a third. According to the army, Israeli troops shot the suspect dead after he opened fire at them.

In the early morning hours, a team of officers from the Shin Bet security service and police’s Yamam counter-terrorism unit — with assistance from the Israel Defense Forces — descended upon the hideout of Ashraf Na’alowa, who was suspected of committing the shooting attack in the Barkan industrial park on October 7.

“We were close to him a lot of time and just missed him — he made almost no mistakes,” the senior officer said. “People helped him here and there… but he also had a lot of luck until the moment it ended.”

According to the Central Command official, when the Israeli troops finally caught up with Na’alowa, he opened fire with the same locally made, Carlo-style submachine gun used in the Barkan attack.

Ashraf Walid Suleiman Na’alowa, a Palestinian man suspected of carrying out a deadly terror attack on October 7, 2018, in the Barkan Industrial Zone in the northern West Bank. (Courtesy)

“The Yamam troops entered the building quietly. The terrorist shot at the officers with the Carlo he used in the attack, but he was shot dead and killed on the spot,” the officer said.

The senior official said the military believed that Na’alowa, 23, carried out the attack alone, without direction or assistance from an organized terror group, but that he did receive help after the fact.

According to the Shin Bet security service, Na’alowa was planning to conduct a second terror attack, “which was prevented with the thwarting of the assailant.”

The officer added that the military was still investigating any possible connections Na’alowa had with terror groups, specifically Hamas.

On Thursday morning, after the previous night’s raids, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the army’s fight against terror is “an ongoing battle, but the message to terror and terrorists is clear.”

The past three months have seen a rise in deadly terror attacks in the West Bank. In September, a Palestinian teenager stabbed to death Ari Fuld, a father of four, outside a shopping center near the West Bank’s Etzion Junction; October saw the Barkan attack; and there have been two fatal shootings in the first two weeks of December.

Yet the senior officer said Thursday that the military was largely succeeding in combating terror in the West Bank.

Israeli troops arrest a Palestinian man, who is suspected of committing a shooting attack on a bus stop outside the Ofra settlement in the West Bank, near Ramallah, in which seven Israelis were injured, including a pregnant woman, earlier in the week, on December 12, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“We are succeeding in dealing with the terror. All of the IDF units in the West Bank are carrying out preventative raids every night. We are constantly holding situational assessments. We work with the Shin Bet security service and special forces,” he said.

“The majority of the [Palestinian] population of the West Bank is violent and wants to carry out terror attacks. Just this year, we have thwarted hundreds of terror attacks and arrested over 2,700 people, but still in the past month, between four and eight attacks have been successfully carried out,” he said, referring not only to the large deadly attacks, but also to a number of attempted stabbings and a car-ramming in which three soldiers were lightly wounded.

The government and military have faced increasing pressure to put into place harsher policies in the West Bank, both from the families of victims and from figures on the political right.

Relatives of Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran attend the funeral of their baby, who was born prematurely after his mother was wounded in a terror attack outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra, at Mount of Olives ceremony in Jerusalem on December 12, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel, Flash90)

At a memorial rally held at the Barkan complex last week, one of the victim’s parents said the family demanded that Na’alowa be put to death if caught. Israel does not currently carry out the death penalty for murder or terrorism.

Late Wednesday night, at the funeral of the unborn baby killed in Sunday’s terror attack outside Ofra, settler leaders demanded to “see the blood of the terrorists.”

“We’ve been informed that the IDF has gone after the terrorists and hit one of them….but this is not enough,” said Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, which includes the Elon Moreh settlement where the baby’s parents live.

On Thursday, following the second shooting attack near Ofra, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel threatened to pull his Tekuma party’s two seats out of the ruling coalition — which would end its majority — if the government does not adopt policies to “return the security to residents of Judea and Samaria.”

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