Staff, students in shock after Tel Aviv car-rammer revealed as ex-janitor at school
Employees recall Yousef Abu Jaber, 45, inviting them over for a meal; students remember dancing, joking with him; brother believes deadly incident was an accident, not terror
Students and staff were shocked when a janitor who worked at their middle school up until a year ago was identified as the Arab Israeli man who was shot and killed after carrying out a deadly car-ramming in Tel Aviv, they told Hebrew media Saturday.
The driver in the suspected terror attack in Tel Aviv was named as Yousef Abu Jaber, 45, an Israeli citizen, father of six, and resident of Kafr Qassem, east of Tel Aviv. He had no known prior security offenses.
Upon the release of his identity, students and teachers at Shazar Middle School in Kiryat Ono informed police that they recognized Abu Jaber from his photos, remembering him as the janitor they had laughed and danced with during his time at the school, the Ynet news site reported on Saturday.
According to law enforcement officials, Abu Jaber carried out the suspected car-ramming attack Friday evening on Kaufmann Street, leaving a trail of carnage along several hundred meters and into the adjacent Charles Clore Park, a popular seaside promenade.
Police said an officer at a nearby gas station heard the car overturning and rushed to the scene, alongside municipal inspectors. They saw the driver trying “to reach a rifle-like object that was with him” and fatally shot the attacker. Police initially believed Abu Jaber had a firearm, and was trying to reach for it in order to open fire. Law enforcement sources later told Hebrew-language media that the object was a toy gun.
A spokesperson for the Shin Bet security agency told The Times of Israel on Saturday afternoon that the car-ramming was being investigated as a terror attack.
The fatality was identified as Italian national Alessandro Parini, a 35-year-old lawyer from Rome.
The wounded victims were also tourists from Italy and the United Kingdom, according to hospital officials. They were not named.
On Saturday morning Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital said three patients remained hospitalized, all in good condition.
According to Ynet, two years ago, Abu Jaber invited teachers at the school to an Iftar meal — the meal at the end of a day of fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
One worker at the school told Ynet she was shocked to hear of Abu Jaber’s involvement in a suspected terror attack.
“I knew Yousuf Abu Jaber, and he was very nice to the whole school staff. There are many things that are still unclear. I would never have imagined that he was a potential terrorist. He once invited part of the team to a meal and some went, but I personally did not come,” she said.
“Everyone knew him,” another staff member said. “We still are trying to understand how a terrorist worked around our students.”
A parent of a student at the school said that her son “was in shock” by the news.
“He told me that he knew Yousef, that this was the happiest person he knew, that he would make jokes and laugh. I’m still in shock, we haven’t digested it,” she said.
???? Tel Aviv terrorist was employed as a janitor at a middle school in Tel Aviv suburb
Yousef Abu Jaber was 45 years old and worked in the employ of a middle school in the Tel Aviv suburb of Kiryat Ono
He held Israeli citizenship and had no prior brushes with the law pic.twitter.com/xXvbh3nJVc
— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) April 8, 2023
Shin Bet agents and police officers were at Jaber’s home in the central Arab-majority city on Friday night to question his family members.
On Saturday, his brother Omar Abu Jaber told the Ynet news site that from videos he had seen, he believed the ramming was an accident.
“You can see that it’s a car accident. He tried to lessen the damage and even endangered himself,” he said, adding that he believed his brother lost control of the vehicle because he had not slept properly for the last few nights as the family was mourning the death of a cousin.
“If he had the intention to kill, he would have tried to cause as much damage as possible,” he said.
Surveillance camera footage showed the vehicle entering a bicycle path and apparently deliberately driving down it for several seconds before veering onto the grass and overturning.
Tel Aviv police chief Amichai Eshed said the suspected attacker drove onto a bicycle lane in a “clear” manner and hit a number of people in the pedestrian area.
Police said an officer at a nearby gas station heard the car overturning and rushed to the scene, alongside municipal inspectors. They saw the driver trying “to reach a rifle-like object that was with him” and fatally shot the attacker.
Abu Jaber’s brother called for police to release bodycam video from the officer.
“Yousef had six daughters, he had grandchildren, he loved everyone and was always smiling,” his brother said. “He was against attacks, unequivocally.”
He also confirmed the Hebrew media reports that Abu Jaber had worked for the last several years as a janitor at the middle school.
הפיגוע בטיילת בתל אביב: תיעוד הפיגוע ממצלמות האבטחה | עדכונים שוטפים >> https://t.co/aBDhe9QGeb pic.twitter.com/tQETL8A4kP
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 7, 2023
The ramming came amid a spate of terror attacks and a surge in violence. It was the second deadly incident of the day, after a shooting in the West Bank Friday morning killed two sisters and left their mother fighting for her life. The uptick in violence has come as tensions have spiked in recent days following Israeli police incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound to quell rioting; on Thursday, Hamas terrorists fired volleys of rockets at Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, authorities said.
Tensions remained high Saturday, illustrated by an incident in Jerusalem where several organizations and media outlets reported another attempted car-ramming.
However, police released a statement saying that there “was no abnormal incident on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem. The police investigation found that this was a Herzliya resident driver who made a mistake and did not hurt or intended to hurt anyone.”
Also Saturday, US Ambassador Tom Nides visited the scene of the Tel Aviv attack, paying condolences to the victims.
Just visited the site of last night's terror attack.
My heart goes out to the victim's family back home ????????
Praying for a speedy recovery for all those injured. pic.twitter.com/1xqEH3Y62d
— Ambassador Tom Nides (@USAmbIsrael) April 8, 2023
In the immediate aftermath of the Tel Aviv car-ramming, members of the Arab Israeli community condemned the alleged attack.
The People’s Committee in Kafr Qassem, a local leadership group, said in a statement that members “strongly condemn the serious attack that took place tonight, send our condolences to the family of the person murdered, and wish a speedy recovery to those injured.”
“We condemn any harm to innocent lives and call for tolerance from all sides. This is not the way of the residents of Kafr Qassem. The city was and remains a place for living together and pursuing peace,” the group said.
Arab lawmaker Mansour Abbas, head of the Islamist Ra’am party, said in a tweet that in these “difficult moments, it is important for me to emphasize… this is not the way of Arab society and Arab citizens in Israel.”
“The Arab leadership, led by Ra’am and the Islamic movement, will not in any way accept the use of violence against any citizen regardless of religion or race or nationality,” said Abbas, who in 2021 made Ra’am the first independent Arab party to join an Israeli coalition.