Five Killed in Jerusalem Synagogue Terror Attack

Fifth victim, Druze police officer Zidan Nahad Seif, succumbs to wounds Tuesday night; seven others also wounded; FBI announces investigation into the attack.

Five Israelis were killed and several others wounded in a terror attack on Tuesday morning in a synagogue in the western Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof.

Two assailants were killed at the scene by police.

Seven people were wounded in the assault, including three seriously, two moderately and two lightly. Magen David Adom ambulances administered first aid to the wounded before evacuating them to hospitals in the city. Five were taken to Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, and the rest to Shaare Zedek Medical Center.

A police officer, previously reported to be in critical condition at Hadassh Hospital, succumbed to his wounds Tuesday night.

Some of the wounded were operated during the course of the day and they are now in the care of multi-disciplinary teams of doctors and nurses. The hospital is geared up for their further treatment, the spokesperson said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered authorities to demolish the assailants' homes, following an emergency security meeting convened in his office after the attack. In addition, the Prime Minister also instructed to push forward the demolition of the homes of the perpetrators of previous terror attack, and to significantly increase the enforcement of the law against incitement to terrorism.

Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said two assailants entered the synagogue on Tuesday with knives, axes and guns and attacked worshipers. The attackers were killed in a shootout with police. Samri said the attackers were Palestinians from East Jerusalem.

The shooting occured at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue on Shimon Agassi St., some 5 kilometers from Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. The Lithuanian synagogue is part of a compound that includes a kolel (a yeshiva for married men) and another synagogue. Residents of the neighborhood said the 6:30 A.M minyan (Jewish prayer quorum) included less people than usual, but there were still dozens of worshipers at the site when the terrorists struck.

The first call to first responders was made at 7:01 A.M. According to police, two terrorists entered the compound and attacked worshipers, who were leaving the synagogue, with guns and axes. Two traffic policemen arrived at the scene separately and were joined by a third police officer. The three engaged in a firefight with the terrorists and killed them. One policeman was critically wounded in the gunfight, and another sustained moderate wounds.

Initially, police suspected there may be a third assailant on the loose in the area, but later stated this was no longer a concern.

Large police forces arrived at the scene after the attack.

Several right-wing protesters gathered near the scene of the attack, calling "Death to Arabs" and "Revenge." In a televised statement to the press, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urged Israeli citizens not to take the law into their own hands.

Palestinian sources said the suspects were Ghassan and Oday Abu Jamal, cousins from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabal Mukaber. Residents there said large forces of Shin Bet security personnel arrived there after the attack and entered the suspects' family houses. Residents also reported hearing shots of teargas near the houses. They also said a school near the houses was evacuated. Police said dozens of youths threw rocks and blunt objects at security forces at the scene. Nine people have been arrested so far.

Interior Minister Gilad Erdan said he will act to immediately revoke the permit for Ghassan Abu Jamal's wife to stay in Israel. The woman, a resident of the West Bank, has been living in Israel since 2010. Her husband and her have three children. 

Palestinians also reported seeing large security forces in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

Security forces have been deployed in great numbers along hotspots between east and west Jerusalem. So far there have been no major incidents there.

In the West Bank, however, some 200 Palestinians and 50 settlers clashed between the settlement of Yitzhar and the village of Urif. Israel Defense Forces and Border Patrol units tried to disperse the crowds with gas grenades.

In the village of A-Ram, north of Jerusalem, some 40 Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces. According to the IDF, the Palestinians hurled rocks and threw firecrackers at the soldiers, who responded with tear gas and stun grenades. No injuries were reported.

Dozens of Palestinians threw rocks and firebombs at an IDF guard tower near Bir Zeit, Ramallah. Soldiers responded with stun and gas grenades.

Eliyahu Rotenberg, who resides near the synagogue, described what he witnessed of the attack. "We heard the sirens (of police vehicles) and I went outside and saw police taking cover and shooting. Many shots were fired and I saw one of the police get wounded and the terrorists being killed."

Police Superintendent A., who took part in the gunfight with the terrorists, said that he heard the report of gunfire at Har Nof on the police radio. "I was at the entrance to the city, and I quickly drove to the scene," he recalled. "I saw police coming and I arrived at the entrance of the yeshiva. I noticed a policeman wounded by gunshots and two terrorists with bloodied kitchen knives and a gun running towards us. I shot at them until they were neutralized and then I went in with other policemen to sweep inside the yeshiva."

ZAKA Chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav described the scene inside the synagogue: "I've seen disaster scenes that were a lot worse with more fatalities, but to see Jews with beards and pe’ot (sidelocks) wrapped in teffilin (phylacteries), surrounded by puddles of blood – I do not remember seeing such a sight.”

“This is not a cliché, it’s the reality," he continued. "We have only seen things like this happen in the Holocaust.“

Zahav said three of the dead worshipers were found inside the synagogue and the fourth in the corridor. He also said he saw the two assailants, who were killed in a gunfight with police, at the entrance to the synagogue.

One of the four victims was identified as U.S.-born Moshe Twersky, 59, the head of the English-speaking Yeshiva Toras Moshe in Jerusalem and a resident of the Har Nof neighborhood where the attack took place. His funeral procession will begin at 2:00 P.M. at Beit HaTalmud yeshiva in Sanhedria neighborhood and end at the Givat Shaul Cemetery.

Moshe Twersky.

Another victim was identified Tuesday as U.S.-born Aryeh Kupinsky, 43, a resident of Har Nof. Kupinsky lost his daughter two years ago when she dies in her sleep, aged 9.

Aryeh Kupinsky.

A third victim was identified as Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, who emigrated from Britain in 1991. He left behind a wife and six children. According to the JewishNews website, Goldberg worked in publishing and lived in London's Golders Green before making aliyah in 1993. "We are aware of the death of a dual British-Israeli national in Israel on 18 November 2014," Britain's Foreign Office said in a statement.

Avraham Shmuel Goldberg.

A fourth victim was identified as Kalman Zeev Levine, 55. The American-born resident of Har Nof regularly prayed at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, which was near his home.

Kalman Zeev Levine.

The fifth victim, Zidan Nahad Seif, a Druze policeman seriously wounded during the incident, died after being hospitalized in critical condition in Hadassah Hospital with a head wound.

Zidan Nahad Seif.

Seif, from the Western Galilee village of Yanuh-Jat, was killed in the shootout with the terrorists.

Mada Hasbani, head of the Yanuh-Jat local council, who visited Seif in hospital on Tuesday afternoon, said that the policeman came from a veteran village family. "It's a family of values," he said. "The boy acted as was expected of him and according to the standards and values that his parents instilled in him."

Seif, 30, joined the traffic police four-and-a-half years ago and recently reached the rank of sergeant-major. He married Rinal in summer 2013 and their first daughter, also named Rinal, was born four months ago.

 

Casualties being taken away by an ambulance at the scene of the terror attack, Nov. 18, 2014. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi

The FBI announced it would launch an investigation into the attack, since three of the four fatalities were American nationals.

'Incitement fed attack'

Following the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a security meeting at the Prime Minister's Bureau, for that afternoon.

Netanyahu said incitement by Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas motivated attacks on Jews. "This is a direct result of the incitement lead by Hamas and Abu Mazen (Abbas), incitement that the international community irresponsibly ignores.

 

"We will respond with a firm hand to this brutal murder of Jews who went to pray and were scathed by despicable murder."

Hamas praised Tuesday morning' attack, describing it as "a quality development in the confrontation with the Israeli occupation."

"The organization welcomes the terror attack, an appropriate and functional response to the crimes of the occupation," the Gaza-based group added.

Abbas, on the other hand, condemned the attack. "The presidency condemns the attack on Jewish worshippers in their place of prayer and condemns the killing of civilians no matter who is doing it," his office said in a statement to Reuters.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the attack was an act of "pure terror".

"This simply has no place in human behavior," he told reporters during a visit to London. He also called for Palestinian leaders to condemn the attack.

Kerry called Netanyahu to condemn the attack. During their conversation, the Israeli prime minister told the U.S. secretary that the strike was a direct result of Abbas' incitement, and that it was a despicable murder at a sacred site.

After the attack, Chief Sephardi Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef called for security guards to be posted outside every synagogue, "just like any other public place."

On the other hand, Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau told Army Radio the prospect of a security guard at every synagogue, as is the case around the world, should not be repeated in Israel. "All over the country there are synagogues with bustling Jewish life of Torah, prayer and charity. They must not be allowed to stop because of some bloodthirsty terrorists," he said.

The violence comes amid high tensions in the city, with a wave of attacks by Palestinians on Israelis killing at least six people in recent weeks. On Sunday night, a Palestinian man was found dead in East Jerusalem in a bus he drove for Israeli bus company Egged. News of his death sparked protests in various Palestinian neighborhoods. Police said an autopsy indicated the man comitted suicide by hanging, while a Palestinian pathologist suspected foul play.

 

Map: Location of the Jerusalem synagogue terror attack