Israeli security forces pressed Saturday a manhunt for the gunman who killed two people and wounded seven others at a Tel Aviv pub, as the motive for the attack remained unclear.
The New Year day shooting Friday afternoon on Tel Aviv’s busy Dizengoff street came amid a wave of Palestinian attacks on Israelis and days after the leader of the Islamic State (IS) group threatened the Jewish state with violence.
“Police are continuing to search for suspect who murdered 2 Israelis in central Tel Aviv,” spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, adding that “road blocks were set up in different areas” of the coastal city.
After the attack, hundreds of police had been seen Friday scouring the area and entering buildings to search for suspects as police helicopters buzzed overhead.
Media reports identified the shooter as an Arab in his late 20s from northern Israel who had recently been jailed for attacking a soldier, but police refused to confirm.
Rosenfeld said there was a “strong possibility that this was a terrorist attack but we haven’t ruled out criminal motives”. He did not elaborate.
CCTV footage from a nearby health food store showed a bespectacled young man with a backpack calmly pretending to shop before going to the exit, placing the backpack on a trolley, removing what looks like a submachine gun and opening fire in the street.
Medics said they took nine people to hospitals in Tel Aviv, with police saying two of them had died.
One of those killed was identified by his father as Alon Bakal, a law and business student who was a manager at Simta, the pub targeted, with police naming the second as Shimon Ruimi from southern Israel.
Police issued a gag order on the investigation as well as the one into the death of an Arab Israeli taxi driver found shot in north Tel Aviv a short while after the shooting rampage.
They have also refused to say whether the two incidents were linked.
In a recording released a week ago and attributed to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the secretive leader of the IS jihadist group pledged to attack Israel.
Baghdadi said IS has “not forgotten Palestine for a single moment”.
“And soon, soon with God’s permission, you will hear the footsteps of the mujahedeen… We are getting closer to you day by day,” he said.
– ‘I would have been dead’ –
Haim Pinto was closing his jewellery store near the pub when the shooting began.
“People started running in my direction, yelling ‘terrorist, terrorist’. I saw the commotion and went right back into my store, another girl came in and we hid in the bathroom till the shooting ended,” he told AFP.
Pinto said the pub had opened “just a few months ago”.
Osnat David, who owns a hair salon near the pub, said she was outside smoking a cigarette just two minutes before the attack began.
“If I were there when it happened I would have been dead,” she said, recounting how she hid in the storage room with a few customers, clutching a pair of scissors and waiting for the shooting to end.
French tourist Alexandre Lambez was at a cafe across the street from the pub.
“I heard gunshots and turned around; I saw people rushing to the back of the cafe. I heard screaming and saw a man shooting. He was brown haired, wearing a grey sweater and fled the scene,” he told AFP.
“I immediately thought of the attacks in Paris,” he said, referring to jihadist attacks in November that killed 130 people at bars, a concert hall and the Stade de France stadium.
Twenty Israelis, an American and an Eritrean have been killed in a wave of Palestinian attacks since October 1 including stabbings, car-rammings and gunfire targeting security forces and civilians.
According to an AFP count, 138 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since the start of the latest violence, most while carrying out attacks on Israelis.