A Palestinian bulldozer driver went on a deadly rampage on a busy Jerusalem street Wednesday, plowing into a string of vehicles and pedestrians, killing at least two people and wounding dozens of others before he was shot dead by police.
The attack wreaked havoc and left a large swath of damage in the heart of downtown Jerusalem. Traffic was halted, and hundreds of people fled through the streets in panic as medics treated the wounded.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Israeli police referred to the attacker as a "terrorist." The attack took place in front of a building housing the offices of The Associated Press and other media outlets. A TV camera captured the enormous bulldozer crushing a vehicle and an off-duty soldier killing the perpetrator by shooting him in the head several times at point-blank range as onlookers screamed.
A half-dozen cars were flattened and a third was overturned by the Caterpillar bulldozer. A bus also was overturned, and another bus was heavily damaged. Israel's national rescue service confirmed two deaths, and the two bodies lay motionless on the ground covered in plastic. Local TV reported four dead.
A woman sprinkled water over a baby's bloodied face, a rescue worker stroked the hair of a dazed elderly pedestrian and a loved one raised the bleeding leg of a woman sitting outside the overturned bus.
"I saw the bulldozer smash the car with its shovel. He smashed the guy sitting in the driver's seat," said Yaakov Ashkenazi, an 18-year-old seminary student.
Esther Valencia, a 52-year-old pedestrian said she barely escaped the carnage. "He almost hit me. Someone pushed me out of the way at the last moment. It was a miracle that I got out of there." Sixteen-year-old Eyal Lang Ben-Hur was in a bus when the driver yelled out, "Get out of the vehicle! Everyone out!" People fled in a panic, he said, and the bus was hit an instant later.
The attack occurred in an area where Jerusalem is building a new train system. The project has turned many parts of the city into a big construction zone.
During the second Palestinian uprising, which erupted in late 2000, Jerusalem experienced dozens of suicide bombings and other attacks. The city has been largely quiet in the past three years, though sporadic attacks have persisted. In March, a Palestinian gunman entered a Jerusalem seminary and killed eight young students.
Police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said the man was an Arab from east Jerusalem and had a criminal background.
In contrast to West Bank Palestinians, Arab residents of Jerusalem have full freedom to work and travel throughout Israel. Many Jerusalem Arabs work in the construction industry, possibly helping the attacker to easily gain control of a bulldozer.
About two-thirds of Jerusalem's 700,000 residents are Jews, and the rest are Palestinians who came under Israeli control when Israel captured their part of the city in 1967. Jerusalem's Arabs are not Israeli citizens but hold Israeli ID cards that allow them freedom of movement in the city and throughout Israel.
Israel's national rescue service said at least 22 people were wounded in Wednesday's attack, with some 14 people hospitalized. At one point, a paramedic lowered a screaming baby into an ambulance.
Injured people sat dazed on the ground amid piles of broken glass and blood stains on the street. A baby had blood all over its face, and the driver of the bulldozer was slumped motionless over the steering wheel.
"Where's the baby? Where's the baby?" said one distraught man as he ran from the overturned bus.
Yosef Spielman, who witnessed the attack, said the bulldozer picked up a car "like a toy."
"I was shocked. I saw a guy going crazy," he said. "All the people were running. They had no chance."
At one point, witnesses said police attacked the perpetrator, after which the witnesses said he slumped over with his eyes closed. Then he suddenly lifted himself back up and continued his rampage, the witnesses said.
Hen Shimon, a 19-year-old solider, said the whole scene was a "nightmare."
"I just got off the bus and I saw the tractor driving and knocking everything down in his path," she said. "Everything he saw he rammed. He had a gun and started shooting at a police officer."
The mayor of Jerusalem, Uri Lupolianski, said his daughter was on one of the buses rammed by the attacker, but was not injured.
"To our regret the attackers do not cease coming up with new ways to strike at the heart of the Jewish people here in Jerusalem," Lupolianski said.
US President Joe Biden and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Qadimi signed an agreement on July 26 to formally end the USA's military presence in the country by the end of the year