An Arab construction worker driving a bulldozer went on a rampage through the streets of Jerusalem on Wednesday, smashing buses and cars and killing three people before police leapt onto the speeding vehicle and shot him dead. Dozens more people were wounded in the incident, say Jerusalem police.
Israeli authorities are trying to determine whether the killer, Hosam Tayseer Dawyyat, 30, a father of two described by neighbors as "an ordinary person," was a crazed madman acting alone, or had been acting on behalf of a Palestinian militant group when he swerved a 20-ton bulldozer out of a construction site and onto Jerusalem's busy Jaffa Road to begin his deadly ride. Most likely, said Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen, it was "a spontaneous attack."
Eyewitnesses say that Dawyyat used the machine's backhoe to slam into cars and flip over two buses, and that he tore onto the sidewalk, crushing pedestrians. Bat El-Ganem, a bus passenger, told reporters that the bulldozer "rammed into the bus again and again. Two babies flew towards me; I was in shock. I don't know how I made it out alive. We flipped over until a wall stopped us." It is believed that the killer was headed toward the Machaneh Yehudah open market, teeming with shoppers at the noon hour.
A bank guard fired at Dawyyat, inside the glass cabin of the bulldozer, possibly wounding him. Then, an off-duty soldier, fresh from basic training, jumped on the vehicle and fired three shots at the driver. "He yelled 'Allahu Akbar' and hit the gas," recounted Pvt. Moshe Plesser. Soon after, two SWAT officers rammed their motorcycles into the bulldozer, slowing it so that they were able to clamber aboard and pump three more bullets into the driver.
As the bulldozer roared towards a car stuck in traffic, passersby managed to grab a five-month-old baby from inside the vehicle, seconds before the bulldozer slammed into the car, crushing the mother to death.
Israeli authorities identified the driver, an East Jerusalem resident, by his ID card. Shortly before police descended on Dawyyat's home to arrest his relatives, his father Tayseer Dawyyat told journalists, "My son never spoke of plans to carry out such an attack. If he had, I would've tried to prevent him." Police said that Dawyyat had a criminal record, but did not reveal the nature of his offense.
The Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad denied any responsibility in the attack. But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, described Dawyyat's killing spree as "a natural reaction to Israeli crimes against Palestinians."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert condemned the rampage as "an act of senseless murder" and called for Dawyyat's family home in an Arab neighborhood on the slopes of East Jerusalem to be bulldozed as punishment. In the past, courts have ruled that razing homes of any Israeli resident is illegal although the tactic has often been used in retaliation for terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza, Dawyyat was an Arab citizen of Israel. Police say they will stop attempts by Palestinian militants to politicize Dawyyat's funeral by banning all but close family from attending the burial.
Jerusalem last suffered a terrorist attack in March, when a gunman entered a Jewish seminary and opened fire, killing eight students before he was shot down. That case was eerily similar to Wednesday's rampage in that both men appeared to be leading normal lives, with no apparent ties to Palestinian militants before something made them snap and start killing Israelis.
With reporting by Jamil Hamad/Bethlehem and Aaron J. Klein/Jerusalem