A Palestinian construction worker commandeered a construction vehicle and rampaged through central Jerusalem on Wednesday afternoon, killing three people in what police later described as the spontaneous act of a lone attacker.
Dozens were injured as the front-loader flattened cars and flipped a crowded bus before its driver was shot dead by an Israeli soldier on leave who scrambled onto the vehicle.
Though the attack evoked memories of the politically motivated suicide bombings that demoralized Jerusalem during the second Palestinian uprising, police said that the man appeared to have no ties to militant groups.
“This appears to have been a spontaneous attack,” Israeli Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen said.
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Three militant Palestinian groups claimed responsibility for the rampage, but police officials dismissed all of them as groundless.
Police identified the driver as Hosam Dwayyat, a married, 30-year-old father of two who lived in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem. Israel's Channel 2 reported that Dwayyat had served two years in prison for rape and attempted murder.
Palestinian Authority negotiators condemned the attack, while Hamas leaders called it a natural response to Israel's repeated military raids in the West Bank.
The attack took place on Jaffa Road, one of Jerusalem's busiest streets. Shortly before noon, the driver lurched out of a construction site off Jaffa Road and began rolling over cars.
Ami Dayan, a resident from Kiryat Gat in southern Israel, emerged from an office building to see the front-loader heading for a line of public buses on Jaffa Street.
“It hit the first bus, then hit a second bus with the scoop with the people inside,” Dayan said. “It turned it over and kept slamming into the bus over and over. Then it went on top of a car with a family inside.”
The attack created confusion and pandemonium as people scrambled for safety.
Assaf Nadav, the driver of the bus that the front-loader flipped on its side, said he wasn't sure what was going on when he saw people running away from the construction vehicle as it headed toward him.
“He hit me lightly and I rolled down my window to ask him what he was doing when I saw him lower the scoop and turn the bus upside down,” Nadav said on Israel Radio. “Screaming would be an understatement.”
Two armed men and a police officer scrambled onto the vehicle, wrestled with the driver, then shot him, Israeli Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said.
The men thought the attack was over, but the driver then lurched forward in a scene captured by nearby cameramen.
In a video that aired on Israeli television, one person rolled out of the way of the Caterpillar as the three armed Israelis wrestled with the driver. A man in shorts and a T-shirt, later identified in Israeli news reports as an 18-year-old Israeli soldier, shot the driver twice in the head. The police officer then fired a final shot in the back of the head of the now-lifeless driver.