A man wielding a knife stabbed several people and struck another in southern Israel on Tuesday, killing four, in one of the deadliest attacks in the country in recent years.
The attacker, who was identified by Israeli media as a Bedouin man who had previously tried to join the Islamic State group, was shot dead by armed locals following an attack in the southern city of Beersheba, police said.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has vowed to crack down on “terrorists” following the bloodshed that began shortly after 4:00 pm (1400 GMT) and took place at petrol stations and on the street outside a nearby shopping mall.
Liraz Zrihan, 25, who was washing his car at a gas station when the rampage began, said he saw the attacker holding a long knife, “like a sword”, as he spun around and looked for people to stab.
According to police and Magen emergency physician David Adom, the attacker stabbed a woman at a gas station, used his car to hit a man in his sixties with a bicycle, and stabbed several others outside the mall before he was shot.
Police have not officially identified the suspect.
But some Israeli media reported the attacker was Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, a former school teacher in his thirties from the Bedouin community of Hura, near Beersheba, who had previously been convicted of seeking links with IS and spreading jihadist ideology.
In 2015, Israel detained six Bedouins, including four teachers, for allegedly supporting IS.
– ‘Watch out’ –
Bennett, who met with the interior security minister and police chief after the attack, praised those who shot the alleged attackers, saying they “showed intelligence and courage as well as avoided more casualties”.
“The security forces are on high alert. We will work hard against the terrorists. We will pursue them as well and those who helped them,” the Israeli prime minister tweeted.
Abu al-Kiyan’s Bedouin faction “strongly” condemned the attack in a statement late Tuesday, saying it was the action of “individuals” who “do not represent law-abiding members of the tribe who have always believed in co-existence”.
Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic group that controls the Gaza Strip, issued a statement not claiming the attack but blaming it for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Speaking to a Hamas -controlled radio station, group spokesman Hazem Qassem said “the operation was in response to the ethnic displacement policy pursued by Israel against our Palestinians in the occupied territories”.
The United Nations envoy for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, condemned the violence, which he said was “the seventh stabbing attack on Israelis this month”.
“I am increasingly concerned about the ongoing violence in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel that occurs on a daily basis,” the UN envoy said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. “strongly condemns the heinous attack” and offered condolences to the victims and their families.
– ‘Criminal act’ –
Stabbing attacks and car crashes, often by lone Palestinian attackers, are common in Israel.
But most of the recent violence has taken place in east Jerusalem, the Palestinian sector in the city annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War, or in the West Bank, which has been occupied by Israel since the same year.
Attacks that have resulted in several Israeli deaths have also been rare in recent years, while southern Israel, including Beersheba, has largely been spared from such violence.
The region has witnessed unrest involving Bedouins, who are part of Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority and who have fought with security forces, usually over land disputes.
Mansour Abbas, the head of the Raam Islamist party which supported the Bennett government and was widely supported by Bedouin voters in last year’s election, condemned the attack.
“The Raam party condemns the criminal attacks in Beersheba and extends its condolences to the families of those killed,” the party said in a statement posted on its personal Facebook page.
The local council in Hura also condemned the incident as a “criminal and terrorist act”.
In the afternoon, dozens of Jewish nationalist protesters gathered near the scene, waving Israeli flags and chanting “death to Arabs”, an AFP reporter said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)