Four people were killed and two women were wounded on Tuesday in a stabbing and ramming attack in the southern city of Be'er Sheva, police and emergency services said. The assailant was shot dead.
The two wounded women are hospitalized in the Department of Cardiac Surgery of Be'er Sheva hospital. They are in moderate and stable condition. In addition, a number of people suffering from anxiety after witnessing the attack were treated by medical teams from the social services at the hospital, Soroka spokeswoman said.
A bus driver who was near the scene has shot the assailant, Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, police said. One of the victims is 49-year-old Doris Yachbas. Rabbi Moshe Kravisky, 50, Laura Yitzhak, 43, and Menachem Yechezkel, 67, were also identified as victims of the attack.
Police said the attacker careened his car into a cyclist. He then drove to a gas station, where he left his car and stabbed a woman. Afterwards, he headed towards a shopping center, where he attacked more people until the bus driver shot him dead.
An eyewitness told Haaretz that he saw a man ramming into cars at the site and thought that an accident had happened.
"I came closer and saw a man with a knife scanning the area looking to stab, he ran between cars and people."
Abu al-Kiyan, a Bedouin man from the nearby town of Hura, served time for security-related offenses. A security source said that the assailant was a known ISIS supporter.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett held a briefing with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai following the attack.
Commissioner Shabtai told reporters at a press briefing at the scene that the incident was “an abominable killing spree by a terrorist known to security services” who had previously served prison time. He said that the attacker appeared to have acted alone.
Shabtai declined to comment further on the suspect. He also said that Israel Police will raise alert levels across the nation due to fears of a copycat attacks.
Bennett sent his condolences to the families of the victims and added that "security forces are on high alert. We will respond with a heavy hand against the terrorizers. We will also pursue and capture their assistants."
The U.S. State department condemned the terrorist attack in Be'er Sheva on Tuesday.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad spokespersons praised the attack. Hamas spokesperson Abdel-Latif al-Qanou called it an "heroic act," vowing that the group's "battle against the occupation continues and we will not stop."
Islamic Jihad spokesman Tariq Salmi said that the attack was "a natural response to the crimes of the occupation in the Negev," adding that Israel "must realize that the Palestinian people will not surrender."
Hundreds of right-wing activists are gathering at the scene of the attack.
Assailant intended to join ISIS in Syria
Abu al-Kiyan is known to the authorities as a supporter of ISIS. He was arrested in 2015, and in 2016, he was sentenced to four years in prison after establishing a group that intended to join ISIS in Syria.
He was convicted in a plea bargain under which he confessed to two charges – conspiracy to commit a crime and attempting to act on behalf of a terrorist organization.
At the time, he was working as a teacher in an elementary school and preaching at a local mosque.
According to the indictment, he also attended secret meetings at which he served as a “spiritual instructor” on Islamic State content. He also showed Islamic State videos to minors and expressed support for the organization.
At his sentencing hearing, Abu al-Kiyan expressed regret for his actions and promised not to repeat them. He added that he wanted “to return to his five children and his family.”
This is the third stabbing attack in the past week.
Tensions have been on the rise in Israel and the Palestinian territories as the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in April this year, approaches – a period when violence has erupted in the past.
The military has recently expressed concern over a deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and Jerusalem ahead of the Passover and Ramadan holidays, and following several deadly incidents between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians.
On Sunday, a 20-year-old Israeli police officer was moderately wounded in a suspected stabbing attack in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud.
Another man was wounded in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on Saturday. The assailant, a Palestinian resident of the city, was shot by officers at the scene and was taken to hospital in serious condition.
Reuters contributed to this report.