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Jerusalem security stepped up after attack

January 9, 2017

Security has been increased following the deaths of four Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem at the weekend. While the attack was blamed on 'IS,' an obscure Palestinian group has claimed responsibility.

Israel nach Lastwagen Anschlag auf Soldaten
Image: Reuters/A. Cohen

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the number of concrete barricades along roads in Jerusalem would be increased. The priority would be for areas where pedestrians gather, to protect them from similar attacks. The prime minister added that Israeli security experts were working on ways to detect attackers ahead of time.

He said extra security steps were being taken, including intensifying intelligence efforts to help identify and track potential assailants, and raising the vigilance of security forces.

Authorities tightened security in Arab parts of East Jerusalem on Monday, searching trucks and carrying out arrests. Five of the nine arrested were relatives of the attacker, 28-year-old Fadi al-Qunbar, police said. Israeli ministers decided Sunday to take a series of actions, including demolishing Qunbar's home and withholding his body, local media reported.

Police were out in force, checking drivers and searching parked cars and trucks throughout east Jerusalem in an effort to prevent copycat attacks, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

Hundreds of Israelis attended funerals Monday for the four soldiers killed when they were hit by the truck. They had been visiting the popular tourist area overlooking holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock.

After the attack, Netanyahu made a highly controversial claim that the driver was a militant with the self-declared "Islamic State" (IS) group.

Israel nach Lastwagen Anschlag auf Soldaten
Israeli police and Palestinians at the home of the attackerImage: Reuters/A. Awad

The prime minister drew parallels between Sunday's attack and attacks last year in Germany and France where IS militants drove trucks into crowds of people, killing scores.

"We saw it in France, we saw it in Berlin and unfortunately we saw it today in Jerusalem," he said during a visit to the scene overlooking Jerusalem's Old City.

However, on Monday, in a post on Arabic social media, the "Groups of Martyr Baha Eleyan" claimed responsibility for the attack. The group said it was formed by Palestinians who "have no links outside
Palestine." It said it had acted before and threatened more attacks. "This is not the first operation executed by our groups and it will be followed by a flood of distinctive operations in defense of our Jerusalem and in revenge of our martyrs and prisoners," according to Reuters, which was unable to authenticate the validity of the claim.

Netanyahu provokes criticism

Netanyahu visited some of the injured in hospital on Monday. He said Israel needed to prepare to face a different threat. "I think the most important thing we need to understand is that we are under a new kind of attack. An attack by a lone assailant who is inspired, and on the spur of the moment decides to act, in this case, a ramming attack," he told reporters.

Mohammed Qunbar, the attacker's cousin, said Fadi lived a normal life but carried out the attack as a result of Palestinian anger over Israeli encroachment at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site. Jews revere it as the Temple Mount, and Muslims call it the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

"What happened is a normal thing," Qunbar said of his cousin's attack. "After all, this is a response to what is happening at Al-Aqsa. He was very connected to Al-Aqsa."

Also on Monday, Netanyahu's office said the prime minister had cancelled his trip to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland  which starts next week. It was unclear if the cancellation was linked to the ongoing police investigation over allegations Netanyahu improperly accepted gifts from high-profile figures in international business and Hollywood in return for favors. The prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.

bik/jm (AP, Reuters, AFP, EFE, dpa)