Four Dead in Be'er Sheva Bank Shooting; Assailant Releases Hostage and Kills Himself

Israel Police investigating possibility that the assailant, a Jew in his 40s, committed the attack following a dispute with the bank management over a NIS 6,000 overdraft.

Four people were killed, and one was seriously wounded on Monday after a man opened fire in a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be'er Sheva. The assailant held a woman hostage during a shootout with the police but eventually released her.

The standoff ended after the assailant shot himself dead. Police are investigating the possibility that the assailant committed the attack following a dispute with the bank management. According to initial investigations, the man had a NIS 6,000 overdraft. He had gone into the bank earlier Monday to ask to withdraw money despite the overdraft, but was rejected.

The shooter was named as Itamar Alon, who served as a Border Police officer in the 1990s. After his release from military service he worked as a security guard in several educational institutions in Be'er Sheva. In 2002, he received commendation from the city after helping to thwart a shooting attack by two terrorists.

In 2001 he was fired from his job and sued the Be'er Sheva Municipality for unlawful dismissal. He claimed he was fired for exposing corruption. Alon's personal weapon has remained in his possession for the last 12 years, since he was fired from his position as a security guard. Legally, a licensed gun-owner is required to renew his permit every three years, but there is no body actually in charge of enforcing this rule.

Alon was arrested in 2011 after a dispute with his neighbors. Police demanded then that his weapon be confiscated as a condition for his release to house arrest, but the court refused the request even after an appeal was filed.

A legal official involved in the suit told Haaretz that "he was a strange man. Several of his employers complained he had a problem s with authority. He was domineering with his coworkers and made many enemies, which is why he was fired."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could not remember such a grave incident happening, at least not in recent years: "What happened today in Be'er Sheva is a huge tragedy. It should not happen again and it will not happen again."

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino said that only one suspect committed the attack at the bank, as opposed to earlier reports of two robbers, and identified the man as a Jewish resident of Be'er Sheva.

Initial details suggest that assailant entered a Bank Hapoalim branch at 1 P.M. and opened fire. The man clashed with police forces and ultimately shot himself.

The people wounded have been evacuated to Soroka Medical Center in Be'er Sheva. Magen David Adom rescue services announced it as a multiple-casualty incident.

A woman outside the bank said, "I heard gunshots, went out and saw many ambulances arriving and numerous people assembling. I also understood that children were not being let out of school. Right now there are a lot of people here and about nine ambulances. I can see police inside the bank but I do not know what is going on inside. We were told to stay where we are."

The names of the four victims killed were released several hours after the incident: Meir Zeitoun, 40, from Be'er Sheva; Anat Even Haim, 34, from Be'er Sheva; Idan Schnitzer Sabari, 22; and Avner Cohen, 34, from Omer, who was the bank branch's manager.

In August 2011, a Bank Hapoalim security guard was killed during a robbery in Be'er Yaakov by a man who had arrived on a motorcycle. The assailant was later charged with carrying out various bank robberies in a "serial, unique and systematic manner" using a weapon.