JERUSALEM A Palestinian man from east Jerusalem rammed a construction vehicle into three cars and a city bus in downtown Jerusalem near the luxury hotel where presidential candidate Barack Obama is supposed to stay Tuesday night as he kicks off a visit to Israel. The attacker injured four people before an Israeli civilian shot and killed him, police and witnesses said.
The attack was a chilling copycat of a similar incident earlier this month when another Palestinian from east Jerusalem plowed his huge front loader into a string of vehicles and pedestrians on another busy Jerusalem street about 3 miles away.
Three people were killed in that attack and dozens were wounded before an off-duty soldier shot and killed the assailant.
Police said in the latest attack, a civilian driving nearby saw what was happening, jumped out of the car and shot the driver, bringing traffic to a halt. A border policeman who rushed to the scene also shot the driver. Police sealed off possible escape routes into predominantly Arab east Jerusalem and were searching for two suspects who fled the scene, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The attacker struck a busy part of downtown Jerusalem, several hundred yards from the luxury King David hotel where Obama is scheduled to stay Tuesday night. The incident took place about seven hours before Obama was to arrive in Israel.
The driver of the bus said he was chased by the assailant as he wielded the construction vehicle s shovel.
I was driving on the main road when the (vehicle) hit me in the rear on the right hand side, the driver, who was not identified, told Channel 10 TV. After I passed him, he turned around, made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head, he came up to my window and I swerved to the right, otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker.
Like the perpetrator of the previous attack, the driver in Tuesday s incident was a Palestinian from east Jerusalem with an Israeli residence permit and he drove the same type of front loader vehicle, police said. Israeli police called it a terror attack but no group immediately claimed responsibility.
Israeli rescue services said they had evacuated one person whose leg was partially severed and Israeli media said he had been in an overturned car.
Witness Moshe Shimshi said the Palestinian driver, who was wearing a large, white skullcap commonly worn by religious Muslims, slammed into the side of the bus, then sped away and went for a car.
He didn t yell anything, he just kept ramming into cars, Shimshi said.
The driver then headed for cars waiting at a red light and rammed into them with all his might, he added.
Channel 10 TV said a mother and her baby were also injured.
This was another attempt to murder innocent people in a senseless act of terrorism, said government spokesman Mark Regev. All people who believe in peace and reconciliation must unequivocally condemn this attack. Unfortunately, it is clear that we as a society will have to remain vigilant against terrorism.
Minutes after the attack, the driver, wearing shorts and black shoes, was sprawled backward in the construction vehicle s cabin, his legs dangling lifelessly.
Firetrucks rushed to the scene, where the smell of gas was wafting in the air. Sirens wailed in the background, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
A four-door sedan next to the vehicle had been rammed from the rear and had crashed into a utility vehicle. A compact car stood nearby, its driver s side smashed, and its hood and engine destroyed. Another four-door sedan was overturned on the sidewalk.
Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski was in the area when he heard a commotion and rushed over to the scene.
The attacker is from east Jerusalem, he said. They keep on inventing ways to attack us, he said. Every work tool has become a weapon.
The three latest attacks in Jerusalem have been carried out by Palestinians from the city s eastern sector.
Israel captured east Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank, and annexed it. The 208,000 Palestinians who live there make up less than a third of the city s population. They are not Israeli citizens but carry Israeli ID cards that allow them freedom of movement throughout Israel, unlike West Bank Palestinians. Many east Jerusalem Palestinians work in construction in the Jewish parts of the city.