The body of the Palestinian suspected of killing an elderly woman Tuesday evening, in what security officials have described as a terror attack, was discovered the following morning in an abandoned building in Tel Aviv.
The man was found hanged in a building on Bar Kochba Street, close to the city’s central Dizengoff Street.
Police believe Mousa Sarsour — a 28-year-old Palestinian from Qalqilya — died by suicide. Police chief Kobi Shabtai was at the scene.
The Israel Defense Forces said troops arrested five suspects in the town of Sarta, among them Sarsour’s relatives, in connection with the attack during overnight West Bank raids.
The 84-year-old victim was named Wednesday morning as Shulamit Rachel Ovadia.
An unnamed relative of Sarsour told the Ynet news site on Wednesday that the suspect had mental health issues and they do not believe that he killed Ovadia.
“Mousa is a very shy and quiet person — he hardly even talks to his family members. There are things we don’t understand and we will wait for the results of the investigation,” the relative said.
Ovadia was killed by blows to the head from a blunt object on Hahashmona’im Street in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon. Police were called to the scene after a neighbor heard her screams, arriving to find her seriously wounded.
In the ensuing hours, officials said the Shin Bet security agency was involved in the investigation, amid growing suspicions that she was the target of a terror attack.
CCTV footage showed a man in dark clothes trailing Ovadia as she walked toward her house, then attacking her from behind, landing multiple blows and fleeing the scene. Nothing was stolen from her.
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“We have no idea what happened, we are in shock,” Ovadia’s son-in-law told Channel 13. “She was probably in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Sarsour had a permit to enter Israel for work. He was reportedly questioned twice by police in recent weeks, but was released after authorities found that his permit was valid and there were no warnings listed against him, as he did not have any prior security offenses.
Sarsour’s body was found after a manhunt lasting several hours.
A woman identified only by the Hebrew initial Nun, who works for Channel 12, told the outlet that after police released an image of Sarsour, she remembered she had seen him on a bus in Tel Aviv,approximately an hour after the attack.
“I saw the clothes he was wearing [in the picture] and I immediately remembered seeing him earlier that day, on a bus in Tel Aviv,” she said.
She said that when the suspect got on the bus, he spoke to the driver for a relatively long time.
“I tried to understand from his clothes if he was a drug addict or lived on the street, but the clothes didn’t look too dirty to me so I came to the conclusion that he was probably actually from the West Bank,” she said, adding that he spoke accented Hebrew.
The woman said she disembarked from the bus a couple of stops after the man got on, and contacted the police later in the evening when she realized she had seen the suspect.
The killing came less than two weeks after police said they had thwarted a terror attack planned by a Palestinian man found in Jaffa carrying a gun and improvised explosives, with tensions running high in recent months.
Prime Minister Yair Lapid, in New York for the United Nations General Assembly, was updated on the attack. “This is a shocking attack by a despicable and cowardly terrorist who murdered an elderly woman who could not fight back,” he said through a spokesperson.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have spiked as Israeli forces have ratcheted up arrest raids and other counterterror efforts that Palestinians say inflame anger.
Israeli troops have also repeatedly come under gunfire during nightly raids in the West Bank. The military launched the operation after a series of deadly attacks that killed 19 people between mid-March and the beginning of May.
More than 2,000 suspects have been detained since the beginning of this year, according to the Shin Bet security service.
In addition to the five suspects allegedly involved in the Holon attack, another six wanted Palestinians were arrested by troops during overnight raids across the West Bank, the IDF said.