Palestinian Kills 3 With Construction Vehicle


Daniel Bar On/Jinipix, via Reuters

This bus was knocked over Wednesday when a man drove a front-end loader down Jaffa Road in Jerusalem. His rampage left three people dead and 40 wounded.

By ISABEL KERSHNER

Published: July 3, 2008

JERUSALEM — The Palestinian driver of a large construction vehicle went on a deadly rampage along a central Jerusalem thoroughfare on Wednesday, crushing several cars and ramming into buses and pedestrians before an off-duty soldier and a police officer clambered up to the cabin and fatally shot him.

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Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times

The Israeli police said at least four security officers tried to stop the driver, Hussam Dweikat, before a police officer killed him. Mr. Dweikat, who was about 30, lived in East Jerusalem.

At least three people were killed by the lurching vehicle, and more than 40 were wounded, Israeli officials said.

The police said that they were treating the event as a terrorist attack and that the driver, about 30 years old, was a resident of Sur Baher, an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and then annexed.

“There is no doubt at all that this was a terrorist attack,” Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said at the scene shortly afterward. He added that the authorities were investigating whether the driver, identified by acquaintances as Hussam Dweikat, had acted alone.

Two of the victims were Israeli women, Bat Sheva Unterman, 33, and Elizabeth Goren-Friedman, 54, both residents of Jerusalem.

The identity of the third victim still had not been released by late Wednesday night.

The fact that the driver was a Jerusalem resident, with access to all parts of the city, was likely to raise tensions here. Less than four months ago another East Jerusalem Palestinian, Ala Abu Dhaim, killed eight students at a Jewish seminary in West Jerusalem. The attack led to calls for harsh action like the demolition of the attacker’s home.

Police officials said that the driver had a criminal background, but that there had been no prior intelligence information to suggest that he would carry out an attack.

Three Palestinian groups claimed responsibility, including Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a group affiliated with the mainstream Fatah movement led by the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. But it was not clear if any of the claims were credible.

The Israeli chief of police, Dudi Cohen, said Wednesday that the attacker appeared to have been acting spontaneously and alone.

Hamas, the Islamic group that controls Gaza and which recently agreed to a temporary cease-fire with Israel there, said it did not carry out the attack but nevertheless praised it, according to The Associated Press.

Witnesses said they saw the vehicle, a large Caterpillar front-end loader, set off close to midday from a building site at one of the busiest intersections in the predominantly Jewish, western half of the city, between the central bus station and the popular Mahane Yehuda market. The hulking vehicle turned onto Jaffa Road, which runs through the city’s commercial downtown area, immediately slicing through the drivers’ cabin of a small white van and flipping a silver Chevrolet on its side.

Continuing along Jaffa Road, the driver used the loader’s serrated scoop to overturn a bus from the Egged public transportation company and leave a swath of tangled wreckage about 300 yards long, as it mowed into several other cars and collided with a second bus.

The police said they believed the driver might have intended to plow into the crowded market.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Mr. Rosenfeld said.

Police officials contended that it was necessary to kill the driver to stop him. An initial investigation indicated that at least four security personnel members had tried to stop the driver. The off-duty soldier shot him but failed to kill him. An officer from a special antiterrorism police unit who sped to the scene on a motorcycle finally ended the episode.

The officer, Eli Mizrahi, told reporters that he had climbed up to the driver’s cabin “when he was still driving like crazy and trying to harm civilians,” and that he fired twice.

Much of the rampage took place directly below the windows of an office block housing several foreign television networks. The vehicle finally came to a halt outside the Israel Broadcast Authority building, a car completely flattened beneath it.

In the first moments, witnesses said, they thought the vehicle was involved in a road accident, but it soon became apparent that the driver was on the attack.

“People started running for cover into stores and buildings,” said Yuri Gudkovich, a security guard at an apartment block on Jaffa Road.

A crowd of passers-by also began to chase the loader, desperate for a way to stop it.

“We started to run after it, shouting to find someone with a gun,” said Moshe Oren, who works in a storefront transportation company along the road.

Mr. Oren, 58, said he looked into the face of the driver and saw “an expression of madness.”

“It’s hard to define,” Mr. Oren continued, “but he also seemed coolheaded. He looked crazy and calculated at the same time.”

Spare diapers, a toddler’s pink jacket and a bottle of fruit juice were scattered on the bottom of the overturned bus. There was blood on the hood of a car whose roof had been ripped off.

Residents of the area were incensed. Sara Nagani, 48, said the driver’s neighborhood “has to be wiped out.” She said she had come to Jerusalem with her family from India at the age of 3. “I’ll live and die here,” she said, “but not like this.”

Caterpillar equipment has a special resonance among Palestinians. Human rights activists have lobbied the company to stop selling its heavy vehicles to the Israeli military out of concern that they have been used to demolish Palestinian homes, uproot orchards and construct Jewish settlements in occupied land.

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/03/world/middleeast/03mideast.html?ref=world

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