A man with a knife stabbed several people on Tuesday and ran over another in southern Israel, killing four people in one of the deadliest attacks in the country in recent years.
The attacker, who has been identified by Israeli media as a Bedouin man who previously tried to join the Islamic State group, was shot dead by armed locals after the attack in the southern city of Beersheba, police said.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett pledged to crack down on “terrorists” after the bloodshed that began shortly after 4pm (1400 GMT) and unfolded at a gas station and on a street outside a nearby shopping centre.
Liraz Zrihan, a 25-year-old who was washing her car at the gas station when the frenzy started, said she saw the attacker holding a long knife, “like a sword”, as he turned around looking for people to kill. stabbing.
According to police and emergency medical services at Magen David Adom, the attacker stabbed a woman at the gas station, used his car to hit a man in his 60s on a bicycle and stabbed several others outside the mall before being killed. shot.
Police have not yet officially identified the suspect.
But multiple Israeli media outlets reported that the attacker was Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, a former schoolteacher in his thirties from the Bedouin community of Hura, near Beersheba, who had previously been convicted of seeking ties to IS and preaching a jihadist ideology.
In 2015, Israel arrested six Bedouins, including four teachers, for allegedly supporting IS.
– ‘Major alarm’ –
Bennett, who met with his Secretary of Homeland Security and police chief after the attack, praised those who shot the alleged attacker and said they “displayed ingenuity and courage and prevented further casualties”.
“Security forces are on high alert. We will work hard against terrorists. We will also pursue them and those who help them,” the Israeli prime minister tweeted.
The Bedouin tribe of Abu al-Kiyan “strongly condemned the attack” in a statement late Tuesday, saying it was an “individual” act that “did not represent the law-abiding members of the tribe who have always believed in coexistence”.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, has released a statement not claiming the attack but attributing the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
Speaking to a Hamas-controlled radio station, group spokesman Hazem Qassem said the “operation is in response to Israel’s policy of ethnic displacement against our Palestinian people in the occupied territories.”
United Nations envoy for peace in the Middle East, Tor Wennesland, condemned the violence, which he said was “the seventh stabbing against Israelis this month”.
“I am increasingly concerned about the ongoing violence in the occupied Palestinian territories and in Israel that takes place on a daily basis,” the UN envoy said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US “strongly condemns the horrific attack” and offered his condolences to the victims and their families.
– ‘Criminal offence’ –
Stabbing and car-ramming attacks, often by lone Palestinian assailants, are common in Israel.
But much of the recent violence has taken place in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian sector of the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War, or in the West Bank, which Israel has occupied since the same year.
Attacks that killed multiple Israelis have also been rare in recent years, while southern Israel, including Beersheba, has been largely spared such violence.
The region has seen unrest involving Bedouins, who are part of Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority, who have clashed with security forces, mostly over land disputes.
Mansour Abbas, the leader of Israel’s Islamist Raam party that supports Bennett’s government and was widely supported by Bedouin elections last year, denounced the attack.
“The Raam party condemns the criminal attack in Beersheba and extends its condolences to the families of the dead,” the party said on its personal Facebook page.
The municipality in Hura also condemned the incident as a “criminal and terrorist act”.
Later in the evening, dozens of Jewish nationalist protesters gathered near the scene, waving Israeli flags and saying “death to the Arabs,” an AFP reporter said.
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