Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai warned Sunday that the terrorists who carried out the deadly attack in Elad last week were like “wounded animals” who could attempt a final suicide mission, as security forces continued to search for the suspects.
“It is important that we all remain vigilant,” Shabtai told dozens of officers involved in the manhunt who were gathered at Kibbutz Nachshonim in central Israel.
“[The suspects] have gone a long time without food and water, and they will probably do whatever they can to carry out one last suicide attack and end it one way or another for them, or they will try to survive and exploit a vulnerability within us,” the police chief added.
“They can constantly hear the helicopters and see the forces, and are in a defensive state.”
Security forces are working on the assumption that the two suspects have stayed in Israel, with the manhunt concentrating on the area around Elad and the West Bank barrier, as well as Arab communities.
Police have asked that people avoid those areas and refrain from picking up hitchhikers.
“Residents must be vigilant and report any suspicious person and act carefully. Avoid the seam area [between Israel and the West Bank] and open areas. Do not stop for hitchhikers and do not pick up any unidentified person,” head of the police operations division, Lt. Gen. Shimon Nachmani told the Ynet news site.
The police warnings came as Ynet reported that one of the two terrorists who carried out the deadly attack, which killed three Israelis, had left a will saying he was doing it “for the harm done to the Temple Mount.”
The will has not been released publicly and the report did not say which of the two suspects — As’ad Yousef As’ad al-Rifa’i, 19, and Subhi Emad Subhi Abu Shqeir, 20 — it belonged to.
According to Ynet, two attackers who were captured alive last week after killing a security guard at the entrance to the West Bank settlement of Ariel also cited tensions in Jerusalem as the motivation behind their attack.
The report said that defense officials are now increasingly concerned that tensions surrounding the Temple Mount could spark even more regional violence.
The unnamed officials were also said to believe that even though most of the attackers in recent weeks were not directly affiliated with Hamas, the incitement by the terror group over the Jerusalem holy site was becoming increasingly effective.
While Hamas has not taken responsibility for most of the attacks since March 22 that have left 19 people in Israel and the West Bank dead, the terror group’s Gaza leader Gaza leader, Yahya Sinwar, has repeatedly called for Palestinians to assault Israelis and the group has publicly praised the perpetrators, encouraging more attacks.
The two men suspected of killing three men in an ax and knife rampage on Thursday in Elad may have been inspired by a speech from Sinwar urging Palestinians and Arab Israelis to commit terror attacks, the Haaretz daily reported, citing an unnamed security source.
In the wake of the attack, Hamas called it “a heroic operation” in response to Jewish Israelis visiting the Temple Mount holy site earlier Thursday.
In a speech last week, Sinwar had threatened violent consequences should Israelis continue visiting the site, where according to the status quo Jews can visit but not pray.
He also urged Palestinians to strike Israelis with whatever they had — including axes. “Let everyone who has a rifle, ready it. And if you don’t have a rifle, ready your cleaver or an axe, or a knife,” Sinwar said.
Palestinians and Israeli forces have repeatedly clashed at the Temple Mount over the past few weeks. The violence echoed scenes from last year when rioting at the site helped spark an 11-day war in May between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups led by Hamas.
Ever since last year’s war, Hamas, which seeks to destroy Israel, has threatened to fire rockets at Israel if it violated the organization’s “red lines” in Jerusalem.
Hamas also threatened on Saturday to go back to carrying out suicide bombings and to “burn” Israeli cities if Jerusalem resumes its policy of targeted killings of senior terror figures, including Sinwar.