At least 12 people were wounded, some seriously, when a Palestinian man began stabbing people aboard Tel Aviv’s number 40 bus.
Four victims, including the driver, remained in serious condition following the Wednesday morning attack, which initial reports said injured between 12 and 21 people.
The assailant, according to media reports, was identified by police as Hamza Muhammed Hasan Matrouk, a 23-year-old Palestinian man from the West Bank city of Tulkarem who had entered Israel illegally. Matrouk was shot in the leg by a commander in the Israel Prison Service who was at the scene of the attack, and was apprehended by police. Video of the attack was later posted on YouTube.
The attack is the first in Tel Aviv since an assailant killed a soldier in a stabbing attack at a train station in November.
In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Prison Service members who stopped the attacker and drew a link between the incident and recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium.
“The attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement spread by the Palestinian Authority toward the Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said. “The same terror tries to harm us in Paris, Brussels, and everywhere.”
According to Israeli reports, the attacker boarded the bus at approximately 7:15 a.m. and began stabbing passengers soon afterwards. Bus driver Herzl Biton, 55, sprayed the assailant with pepper spray as he was being stabbed, slowing him down and aiding the Prison Service employees in stopping him as he ran from the scene.
“We identified in the area of the Maariv Bridge a large gathering, and people crying for help. After an initial assessment, we understood it was a terrorist incident,” said Prison Service Commander Benny Botershvili, who shot the attacker, according to the Times of Israel. “I and a team of three Nachshon fighters identified the terrorist and chased after him. We shot toward his legs, the terrorist collapsed and fell, we handcuffed him and waited for the police to arrive.”
Eighth-grade student Liel Suissa, who was on his way to school, told the Israeli daily Israel Hayom that he broke a bus window to escape the attack after the stabbing began. The assailant continued chasing after people as they escaped the bus, Suissa said.
“Suddenly, the terrorist came and began stabbing people,” Suissa said, according to Israel Hayom. “We all went to the back, and most of the people piled onto me. I sat in the bus and heard people screaming. He turned around in the bus and suddenly went to the driver and stabbed him.”
Tel Aviv Police Commander Bentzi Sau called the attack a “nationalist incident” and praised Biton’s “excellent reaction” to the stabbing. He said the police are investigating whether accomplices assisted the attacker.
Hamas officials praised the attack as “heroic and courageous,” according to Israeli reports. Hamas said it was a “natural reaction of sons of the Palestinian nation to the crimes of the cruel Zionist occupier.”
Marcy Oster contributed to this report.