What looked at the start like a hit-and-run incident in southeast Tel Aviv yesterday morning appears to have been a terror rampage perpetrated by an Israeli Arab truck driver.
The serial collisions killed Aviv Morag, a 29-year-old man from Givatayim, and wounded 18. They came amid heightened tensions as Palestinians marked Nakba Day, an annual day of Palestinian protest mourning the creation of the State of Israel.
The truck driver, a 22-year-old Kafr Qasem resident, was arrested yesterday.
Witnesses said he threw glass shards and traffic light fragments at pedestrians who tried to help him when the truck finally stopped and that he shouted "Death to the Jews."
Police would not confirm rampant suspicions that the incident was a terror attack, however.
"When we learn details, we'll issue a statement," said Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino.
Police sources said security forces did not have any intelligence about plans to carry out an attack in Tel Aviv and that the driver appears to have acted on his own. Police and Shin Bet officials were working last night to find out whether the suspect had any links to terror organizations.
The suspect said at the scene that the multiple crashes were an accident, and his relatives said he was not religious and had nothing to do with politics.
"He left at around 7 A.M. to go to work, like any other day," his mother said. Relatives said he bought the truck several months ago and worked as a driver for a contractor in Jaffa.
Arik Levy was one of several passersby who detained the suspect when he got out of his truck after it crashed into a school.
"I engaged him in hand-to-hand combat," said Levy. "He ripped my shirt. In the end, I managed to bring him to the ground - he was yelling and cursing. He was berserk."
The incident began around 9:30 yesterday morning, on Bar Lev Street, near Mesubim Junction, when the truck crashed into a Fiat Punto, and then into a motor scooter a few hundred meters to the west and several other vehicles.
Morag was killed when the truck smashed into his car as it sped through a red light at the intersection of Bar Lev and Hatayasim streets, witnesses said. He sustained head injuries and died at the scene.
The truck driver continued toward Sheshet Hayamim Boulevard, colliding into several more cars and motorcycles and causing multiple injuries. He steered the truck into a bus in a nearby lane, then crashed into the fence outside the Golomb elementary school.
The casualties were treated at Sourasky Medical Center in Tel Aviv and Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.
When the truck drew to a stop, security forces suspected the incident was a terror attack, but pedestrians thought it was a conventional car accident and at first tried to help the driver.
"I was standing at the bus stop and I saw a truck come quickly, and it collided into a number of vehicles, and toppled them, as though it were bowling," said Tel Aviv resident Shlomo Gabai, 65. "I thought it was a car accident and I ran to the driver to see if he was all right, and then he hit me with fragments of a traffic light that were on the ground. He attacked me and a few other pedestrians, and then some other people came and shouted that this was a terrorist and that this was apparently a terror attack."
Passersby detained the suspect for the eight minutes until police arrived at the scene. Witnesses said he had come out of his vehicle and was trying to assault anyone who approached him.
"When I left my car, I saw the truck driver accelerate and swing toward the bus that was in another lane," said Shai Elgalai, one of the passersby who detained the truck driver.
"I decided to run toward the bus because I feared that many people had been hurt, but then I saw the truck driver hitting a woman in the head with glass shards in his hand," said Elgalai. "He was yelling 'Death to the Jews.' Along with a few other people, I ran toward him. He tried to hurt us, bet we managed to bring him to the ground. After he was pinned to the ground, he started to say that he hadn't done this intentionally, and that he didn't know what we wanted from him. But he had a murderous look in his eyes about which there wasn't any doubt."
If this was a terror attack, it won't be the first one carried out through the use of a vehicle.
Two Arab bulldozer drivers carried out similar attacks in 2008, leaving three people dead and dozens wounded. Last year a Palestinian tractor driver slammed his vehicle into two Israeli cars near an outpost in the northern West Bank, lightly wounding three people.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now