Israeli security and police authorities fear that the drive-by shooting attack in Jerusalem on Sunday 9 October was planned as the opening shot of a round of major Islamic Palestinian terror assaults, most likely in Jerusalem, over the Jewish High Holidays.
DEBKAfile is an Israeli intelligence news service. Its counterterrorism sources indicate information has been received about more than one group of terrorists heading for an attack. They are intended to follow in the wake of the Silwan gunman who murdered Yosef Kirma and Levana Malichi Sunday. The follow-up terrorists are fired up to avenge the gunman who died in a shootout with Israeli police, an encounter that not only ended his life but also cut short his shooting spree.
Police, Border Guards and elite police units are fanned out throughout greater Jerusalem in order to forestall any attacks. The numbers of people on duty are over and above regular manpower reinforcement. They include volunteers for Yom Kippur especially at the Western Wall, or Kotel, of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City. As it does every year, it is seeing a massive intake of worshippers for Yom Kippur, the annual Day of Repentance.
Community leaders at the Palestinian Al-Ram village in north Jerusalem were warned to put a stop to the celebrations that hailed the gunman as a hero and martyr or face a curfew. The villagers would then be prevented from going out to their jobs in the city.
While the investigation into the shooting is under a gag order, it is already evident that the perpetrator did not act alone. His accomplices are now targeted.
The detention a month ago of a Palestinian terrorist in the Shuafat district of Jerusalem thwarted a row of terror attacks planned by him on behalf of Hamas for the Jewish High Holidays in Jerusalem. He was charged with forming a Hamas cell and plotting attacks, including laying explosive devices in shops, an attack on crowds at the Malcha Mall, and preparing a suicide attack in a Pisgat Zeev bus.
Details of the inquiry into the deadly Palestinian shooting spree that claimed two Israeli lives and injured six others last Sunday in Jerusalem Sunday are under a court gag order.
Regardless of those details, Sunday's attack was clearly different from the run-of-the-mill attack that has been plaguing Israel for the last two years. During this time, most terror attacks were either prevented before their planned executions or cut short before their damage spread.
The two victims on Sunday are Police Elite Unit (Yasam) officer Yosef Kirma, 29, who was survived by his wife, parents and two brothers; and Levana Malichi, 60, who was mourned by a husband, three daughters and 6 grandchildren.
Sunday's gunman was not an anonymous knife-wielding lone youth, but well known to the police and security authorities as Musabah Abu Sabit, 39, from Silwan. Sabit fit the classic profile of a hardened terrorist. He had been in and out of Israeli courts and prisons, charged with grievous bodily harm to police officers, taking illegal military training, torching vehicles and other violent acts.
He was also due to start serving another four-month jail sentence on the day of his shooting rampage in Jerusalem.
Sabit was also prominent in extremist Palestinian circles in which he was known as “the Lion of Jerusalem.” He was photographed marching with the flag of the Hamas terrorist group and caught as a activist for the outlawed violent anti-Israel Islamist Murabatun movement.
Also, Abu Sabit did not operate underground. His hate-filled inflammatory messages with self-images appeared in Facebook, the latest one two days ago.
Israel's Homeland Security Minister Gilead Erdan’s stated to the media after the attack that no specific warning had preceded the attack and charged Facebook with responsibility for reopening its pages to Palestinian incitement.
Neither claim accounted for the security authorities having missed the vital clue to the coming attack.
That miscue will, no doubt, be uncovered by the inquiry. But questions remain.
Abu Sabit moved between three sites of attack, shooting an MI6-type automatic rifle. He conducted a shooting rampage from a moving car through three sites in northern Jerusalem: the light rail station opposite French Hill, the Shimon Hatzadik Tomb and a main Jerusalem thoroughfare, ending in a shootout at the Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrach. There, he was surrounded by police and an elite counter-terror force. In the ensuing shootout, he was killed, after injuring two police officers, one of whom has since died. The gunman was a 39-year old resident of Silwan, a district opposite the Old City of Jerusalem.
Sabit's assault demonstrated the aptitude of a commando or special operations fighter. This raises obvious questions.
✡ Where was he trained?
✡ Did he pause between attacks, or did he have an accomplice at the wheel?
✡ If he had an accomplice, what happened to him?
✡ Is the accomplice the object of a manhunt?
✡ The weapon was worth roughly $10,000. How did he obtain it and the ammo that he used?
✡ A terorist operation of this kind would be hard to conduct by a lone killer. It would be typically aided and abetted by a group, each member of which would have a special function. So was this the work of a network which the Shin Bet Security Service missed?
✡ After he was banned from Jerusalem, the gunman was able to return. How come? Were there no tabs on his movements?
Israeli Police Commissioner Ronnie Alsheich described the attack as serious with multiple victims - but not a surprise. Palestinian terrorists are wont to strike when Jewish festivals are at hand. The attack Sunday came three days before Yom Kippur Eve. He called on the public to carry on with their normal lives while remaining vigilant and informing the police of anything out of the way.
Nothing has changed, he said, but security forces operate day and night to prevent the ever-present terror menace.
There is no reason to cancel visits to Jerusalem, he said.
Commissioner Alsheich praised the way the police handled the terrorist shooting rampage at three sites, noting that from beginning to end, the incident took no longer than 3-4 minutes.
This is a lightly edited version of the original article published by DEBKAfile at http://debka.com/article/25715/Jerusalem-on-high-alert-for-next-terror-strike