Jerusalem Attack: 4 Soldiers Killed After Truck Rams Into Pedestrians

Netanyahu says all signs point to assailant, a resident of East Jerusalem who was shot and killed, being an ISIS supporter; U.S. strongly condemns attack.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017. RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

>> UPDATE: U.S. citizen among four Jerusalem attack victims

Four soldiers were killed and 13 people were wounded in Jerusalem on Sunday when a truck rammed into pedestrians near the Armon Hanatziv Promenade.

Israeli security and rescue forces work at the scene of a truck ramming incident in Jerusalem January 8, 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The soldiers targeted by the assailant were on an educational trip along with several other groups. According to the police, the truck veered from its course along the promenade and rammed into a group of soldiers getting off a bus.

Among those who responded and shot at the attacker was a man identified as Eitan, a guide for one group of cadets who were on the promenade. Speaking to Army Radio, he said that it took him just a fraction of a second to respond.

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There were military cadets in the area with M-16 rifles, he said, but it took them half a minute to a minute for them to begin opening fire. "The fact that there was dawdling on the part of dozens of soldiers with weapons, I don't want to explicitly use the words Elor Azaria, but I have no doubt that it had an impact."

But in a reference to case of Azaria, the soldier who last week was convicted of manslaughter for killing a wounded assailant in Hebron in March, Eitan added: "It would have been a lot easier if I didn't know that it was possible that some day they would indict me for such things."

For his part, however, the head of the IDF's personnel division, Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, who is also the IDF spokesman, said there is no evidence that soldiers at the scene of the attack were concerned about opening fire at the terrorist as a result of Azaria's manslaughter conviction. 

Israeli soldiers sit in a bus as they leave the scene of a truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017.
RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The four victims have been identified as 20-year-old Yael Yekutiel from Givataiym, 22-year-old Shir Hajaj from Ma’ale Adumim, 20-year-old Shira Tzur from Haifa and 20-year-old Erez Orbach from Alon Shvut. Hajaj was a commander in the Israel Defense Forces officer's course, while the others were cadets in the same course.

Among the wounded, three are in serious condition, one is in moderate to serious condition and nine are lightly hurt.

Leah Schreiber, one of the instructors who witnessed the attack, described the incident: "We got on the bus at the International Convention Center, and this was our first stop. A few minutes after we arrived, while I was talking about the Jerusalem landscape, I heard screaming behind me. I turned around a saw the truck getting on the sidewalk.

"Soldiers who were in the area started shooting at the truck. At first they couldn't kill him. He put the truck in reverse. At this point the youths screamed and the instructors told them to hide behind the stone walls. After the assailant was incapacitated, paramedics arrived."

Netanyahu: All signs point to attacker being ISIS supporter

Police chief Roni Alsheich described the truck-ramming as a terror attack. The assailant, a resident of East Jerusalem, was shot and killed, the police chief said, adding that there was no advance warning for the attack.

Speaking at the scene of the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "We know the identity of the attacker.  All signs point to the attacker being a supporter of the Islamic State."

The scene of the truck-ramming attack in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017.
Emil Salman

Referring to similar vehicle ramming attacks in Europe, in Nice in July and in Germany last month, Netanyahu said there may be a link between them and Sunday's attack, "from France and Berlin and now Jerusalem."

The prime minister said a number of steps were being taken that he would not specify in detail "to ensure that such incidents are not repeated."

"You don't need more than two to three seconds to find a terrorist target," the police commissioner said. "The soldiers at the scene reacted immediately and killed the attacker."

The security cabinet convened in the late afternoon for a meeting focused on the attack, among other issues.

The U.S. State Department issued a statement strongly condemning the truck-ramming. "There is absolutely no justification for these brutal and senseless attacks. We‎ condemn the glorification of terrorism now or at any time and call on all to send a clear message that terrorism must never be tolerated," said a State Department spokesman.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat called on residents of the capital to show vigilance but continue life as usual.  

"Unfortunately there is no limit to the cruelty of the terrorists who stop at nothing to murder Jews and disrupt life in Israel's capital," he said, urging residents to "not let terrorism win."