A closed-circuit TV clip showed the gunman, shortly before he sprayed bullets on the crowded Tel Aviv Dizengoff Street, Friday, Jan. 1, putting nuts and dried fruit in a bag at a natural products shop, walking out and then calmly pulling out his rifle and shooting. After injuring 10 people, two of whom died, the bespectacled young man in black fled. The anonymous shooter is the subject of a massive Tel Aviv police manhunt. The only clue to his identity was a copy of the Koran found in the backpack he dropped.
Police spokesman admitted Friday night that their investigation was still wide open.
ISIS Thursday posted a Twitter message in fractured Hebrew warning “Tomorrow there will be an attack on Dizengoff St.”
Furthermore, the first response to the attack came from Lebanon, in the form of celebratory gunfire and jubilation at the Palestinian Ain Hilwa refugee camp, most parts of which have been taken over by jihadist organizations linked to the Islamic State.
This connection has an alternative angle: Hizballah has in the past employed extremist Palestinian groups in Lebanon to fire rockets into Israel.
In the past week, both their leaders have given Israel dire warnings:
Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi said in an audio message Sunday, Dec. 27, that ISIS had not forgotten the Palestinians and Israel would soon hear the steps of approaching jihadists.
And the next day, Hassan Nasrallah said that the operation to avenge the assassination of Samir Quntar was underway. “Israelis are right to be worried both on their borders and inside the country,” he said.
Hizballah and ISIS have cells planted in the Palestinian and Israeli Arab communities. An Israeli Arab has meanwhile identified his 29-year old son as the shooter.
These pointers provide room for speculation about the hand behind the attack, plus the Koran the gunman dropped in mid-flight. More will be known when some organization takes responsibility for the shooting, or the gunman, or his possible accomplices, are captured. Until then, the coming hours are fraught with danger because the killer may strike again.
Immediately after the attack, DEBKAfile reported:
A gunman in black opened automatic fire on crowds outside the Dioz Bar, on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv Friday, Jan. 1, injuring 10 people, two of whom died of gunshot wounds and four were seriously injured. He escaped as large police and security forces reached the scene. They have cast a wide net to hunt the killer in the neighboring streets up to the seaside promenade. Police officials decline at this point to determine whether the gunman was a Palestinian or Islamic terrorist or a criminal murderer.
In the former case, the Tel Aviv attack would be the most serious terrorist atrocity in the three-month wave of violence launched by the Palestinians three months ago.
Conflicting reports have come in from eye witnesses, who saw the young man clad in black and masked, spraying the street and tables outside a cafe with automatic fire. Two saw the shooter running off after the attack and chased by civilian security guards with drawn pistols who gave up when the police arrived. Other witnesses said there were two shooters, one a woman, who fired into shop windows and at passersby on their way to escape in a waiting car. According to another, he escaped on a motorbike. One witness saw him sitting on a street bench and opening fire when the street became crowded. They all agreed that he was extremely calm.
Shocked Tel Aviv veterans report they had never before seen a large pack of civilians and police running down a main city street with drawn guns. After the shooter escaped, the police turned to sweeping nearby buildings, combing through apartments and picking up suspects and witnesses.
Tel Aviv gunman’s modus operandi is unfamiliar to Israel’s anti-terror services. It is not typical of Palestinian methods of murder, but more closely resembles the Islamic State massacre in Paris on Nov. 13.