DEIR ABU MASHAL, West Bank – Palestinian militants disputed an Islamic State claim Saturday that it was behind a deadly attack against Israel, saying it was their people who killed a female police officer on duty near Jerusalem’s Old City. Family members of the attackers said they were deeply religious men who acted on their own.
IS issued a statement taking responsibility for the stabbing and shooting attacks Friday evening. If true, it would mark the first direct IS action against Israel, and the group warned on its affiliate news agency it “will not be the last.”
“Let the Jews expect the demise of their entity at the hands of the Caliphate soldiers,” it said, calling the attack “revenge for God’s religion and for the violated sanctities of Muslims.”
However, the Hamas and People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant groups quickly retorted that the three attackers who were killed were their members and accused IS of trying to undermine their efforts.
In their village of Deir Abu Mashal, near Ramallah, relatives of the three denied any connection to IS or the other groups. The Israeli military raided the village Saturday, imposing a closure, but officials also said Friday night’s attacks were carried out by local individuals without a formal link to any group.
Yaakov Peri, an Israeli lawmaker and former head of the Shin Bet security service, said the coordinated assault marked an “upgrade” over recent Palestinian violence and that he hoped it was not the beginning of a new wave of attacks. Still, he said he doubted it had anything to do with IS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh.
“The Daesh claim of responsibility is absurd,” he said. “There are great differences and conflicts between Daesh and Hamas. Hamas wants to clarify that it is involved in a national battle of the Palestinian people with the ‘Zionist’ occupier and it is in its interest to present it as such.”
The three men were armed with knives and an automatic weapon and carried out near simultaneous attacks at two locations. Police Staff Sgt. Maj. Hadas Malka, 23, was stabbed to death. Following the attack, police conducted a large roundup Saturday searching for Palestinians who had entered Israel illegally. It said 350 people were arrested.
“The attack was carried out by three Palestinians, two PFLP members and a Hamas member,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, adding that IS claims that it carried out the attack are meant to sow confusion.
The PFLP said its two attackers, 19-year-old Osama Ata and 18-year-old Baraa Ata, were members of the same clan who both spent time in Israeli prisons.
The PFLP is a small radical leftist group, operating within the PLO led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The group opposes any peace talks with Israel and calls for liberating Palestinian territories by force, but their violent attacks are very rare and mostly carried out by individuals.
The father of the third, 18-year-old Adel Ankoush, said his son was too young to belong to any faction. Hasan Ankoush said his son was a devout Muslim, who prayed five times a day and joined the non-Jihadi wing of the Islamic Salafi group.
The three would meet regularly in Ankoush’s basement with its frayed painting, broken windows and only a few plastic chairs. Ankoush was training to be a plumber while the other two were unemployed.
Hasan Ankoush said he would have stopped his son had he known of his plans.
“I taught him that worshiping God is the right path for salvation. I was shocked,” said the unemployed father, paralyzed by a stroke. “He was my only hope in life, he planned to learn a job and work and help me in life.”
The attack was the latest bloodshed in a wave of Palestinian attacks on civilians and soldiers that erupted in 2015. At times the attacks were daily occurrences, but had somewhat subsided in recent months. However, there have been a string of recent attacks near the Old City.
Since September 2015, Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. In that time, some 250 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire. Israel identified most of them as attackers.
Israel blames the violence on incitement by Palestinian political and religious leaders compounded on social media sites that glorify violence and encourage attacks.
Palestinians say it stems from anger over decades of Israeli rule in territories they claim for their future state.