Tuesday 20 February 2018

New Year terror in Tel Aviv as man opens fire on bar

Israeli police officers cordon off the scene of the shooting incident in Tel Aviv. Photo: Reuters
Israeli police officers cordon off the scene of the shooting incident in Tel Aviv. Photo: Reuters

Inna Lazareva

A gunman killed two people and injured seven others in a shooting attack yesterday at a popular bar in central Tel Aviv.

The attacker opened fire on patrons inside the bar on Dizengoff Street, one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, before fleeing the scene, according to initial reports. Police said the motive for the attack was not immediately clear.

"I was inside my restaurant and all of a sudden we heard around 10, 12 gunshots, " said Assaf Ben Ezra, the owner of a nearby restaurant and one of the first people to reach the wounded.

"My first instinct was to hide. And then I went out and saw someone lying on the road, injured with gun wounds - two in his body and one in his hip.

"Across the street, there is a new bar and there were three men lying on the ground - two with gunshot wounds."

Mr Ben Ezra said that he caught a glimpse of the attacker fleeing the scene. "As I was leaving the restaurant [to help the injured], I saw a man running - afterwards I realised he was the terrorist. I couldn't see him, he was very fast."

One eyewitness described the attacker as carrying an M-16 gun, Israeli daily newspaper 'Haaretz' reported.

"I saw the gunman standing right in front of me," an eyewitness, Noah, told the 'Jerusalem Post'. "He had a black jacket, black hair, a goatee, and he was holding his rifle with two hands. We dropped to the floor and I remember the smile on his face."

Two of the victims died, while two others were evacuated to hospital in a serious condition. Five others sustained moderate to light injuries and were being treated in hospital.

One person killed was named as 26-year-old Alon Bakal, the manager of the Simta bar, who was also a university student.

"It's terrible the way we live here in Israel, in such a fear," Mr Ben Ezra said. "I don't have any better words to describe the life here. Absolutely crazy."

Police sirens blasted all around the city, Israel's commercial capital, as a massive manhunt ensued. Roads around the site of the attack were sealed off by police, while residents reported closures of the central bus station, a major Tel Aviv transport hub.

The police later said that one man had been detained near the site of the shooting.

Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who arrived at the scene soon after the attacks, said that while the motive for the attack was unclear, it appeared to be a "terrorist attack motivated by nationalism".

The last time an attack took place in Tel Aviv was on November 2, when two people were stabbed to death.

Meanwhile, police across Europe were in a heightened state of alert for terror attacks.

In Munich, police cancelled overtime after foreign security agencies warned Germany of a suicide terror plot by Isil militants before the New Year's holiday. The Bavarian capital's main railroad station and a train hub in the city's Pasing district were evacuated for about five hours overnight to thwart an attack.

The group of suspected terrorists consisted of five to seven persons, Munich police chief Hubertus Andrae said at a press conference yesterday. Warnings about the plot included the possibility of attacks with automatic rifles similar to the Paris killings in November.

"After intensive investigations we can say that we don't have any insights about these individuals," Mr Andrae said. "Measures haven't led to any concrete evidence for the warnings, that's why we could reopen the stations for traffic."

The alerts came as cities across Europe tightened security after the November 13 terrorist assaults in Paris that left 130 dead. Brussels cancelled its fireworks display and other festivities due to a "significant" risk of a New Year's Eve attack.

Munich authorities said the names of several suspects were provided to them, though no arrests have been made since and the would-be attackers' whereabouts remain unknown. According to a Bavarian public service broadcaster, the warnings came from French and US intelligence agencies.

In Brussels, Belgian authorities have freed three people after questioning them about a suspected plot to carry out extremist attacks in Brussels over the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The three were among six people taken in for questioning on Thursday.

In Paris, president François Hollande said France was "not finished with terrorism" and used a New Year's message to defend controversial plans to strip citizenship from those convicted of terrorism offences.

"The threat is still there," he said in a televised address. "It remains in fact at its highest level, and we are regularly disrupting planned attacks."

He defended proposed constitutional changes to support a crackdown on militants following November's attacks in Paris.

Under the plans, French-born dual passport holders could be stripped of their nationality, a sanction currently applicable only to naturalised citizens.

The proposals, yet to go before the French National Assembly and Senate, have divided Mr Hollande's ruling Socialists and drawn veiled criticism from his own justice minister Christiane Taubira.

Irish Independent

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