JERUSALEM — A truck slammed into a group of Israeli soldiers at a Jerusalem bus stop Sunday, killing four soldiers and wounding 17 other people before the Palestinian driver was fatally shot, police said about the latest round of deadly violence in more than a year.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while visiting the scene, said the attacker had been identified and “according to all the signs he was a supporter of the Islamic State.”
He said there “definitely could be a connection” between Sunday's incident and recent truck attacks into crowds in Berlin and in Nice, France, but did not offer any proof, the Associated Press reported.
Police chief Roni Alsheich described the crash as a terror attack. He said the truck driver was from an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. Police did not release the driver's name.
"You don't need more than two to three seconds to find a terrorist target," he told the Haaretz newspaper. "The soldiers at the scene reacted immediately and killed the attacker."
Netanyahu said authorities have blockaded the neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber and planned to take other steps. He said the dead were all soldiers — three women and a man.
The driver had veered off the road toward a group of off-duty soldiers who had just exited the bus to grab some food. After plowing into the group — and with several soldiers stuck beneath the wheels — the driver backed up, revved the engine and rammed into the group again, Jerusalem police spokesman Luba Samri said.
The soldiers, on a bus tour of Jerusalem, were visiting the Tayelet, a popular pedestrian promenade that provides a panoramic view.
Israel’s Channel 2 TV News identified the driver as Fadi al-Qanbar, 28, and said he had served time in an Israeli prison, but did not give details.
Sunday’s attack marks an intensification of the 16-month-long series of attacks carried out by Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank, and it was the first in three months to cause Israeli casualties. The attacks, mostly by knives and vehicles, had waned in recent months because of tightened Israeli security.
Tensions, however, have been on the rise since President-elect Donald Trump promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be their capital if any peace agreement is reached with Israel and a separate Palestinian state.
In addition, Netanyahu sharply criticized the United States for abstaining in last month's U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements. And last week, an Israeli soldier was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a Palestinian attacker who was already been badly wounded and was lying on the ground. The case sharply divided the country.
The White House condemned Sunday's attack. "Such cowardly acts can never be justified, and we call on all to send a clear and unequivocal message that terrorism must never be tolerated," said Ned Price, spokesman for President Obama's National Security Council.
No person or group has claimed responsibility for the Jerusalem attack. A spokesman for the Palestinian Hamas movement, Abdul-Latif Qanou, called the attack a “heroic” act and encouraged other Palestinians to do the same.
The Islamic State may be taking cues from the Palestinians, who have been carrying out what Alsheich, the police chief, has dubbed “vehicular terror attacks” against Israeli soldiers and civilians.
At least a half-dozen men from Jabel Mukaber have carried out attacks since September 2015. In October 2015 two men from the village attacked a public bus in a Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood up the street from the Tayelet. Three people, including American-Israeli Richard Lakin, were stabbed and shot to death.
Since the attacks began, Palestinian attackers have killed 40 Israelis and two visiting Americans — and 230 Palestinians have been killed by Israelis combating the attacks and other clashes, the AP reported.
Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Va.