ANALYSIS: The Terrorist, Disguised as a Jew, Prowled Chalamish for a Quarter Hour Before the Attack

YERUSHALAYIM -
Zaka personel and police inside the home the night after three Israelis were murdered in a stabbing attack, in Halamish. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With each hour that passes since the horrific massacre of three members of the Salomon family Hy”d in Chalamish on lail Shabbos, more and more details emerge and the picture becomes clearer.

The terrorist, who was wounded but not killed, has already revealed during interrogation that he plotted the attack down to its smallest details.

He surveyed the community for a whole week beforehand. The lail Shabbos prior to the Shabbos of the attack, he noticed an interesting phenomenon: that most people walked around in white shirts on Friday night. So he decided to make his attack in a white shirt, in order to blend into the surroundings as much as possible, and not arouse suspicion.

The terrorist, familiar with the streets of Chalamish, since he lives not far away, found a store to buy a white shirt, as well as a knife.

On returning home after his “shopping trip,” he sat down to write his “will,” a farewell message he posted online, since he did not expect to get out alive.

He cited the Israeli security measures on Har HaBayis, accusing them of seeking to take over the site, as a motive for the murders he was about to commit. He described himself as a believing Muslim, close to Hamas members, and he also expressed anger at the Palestinian Authority, which had arrested him eight times in coordination with Israeli security forces who had singled him out as an instigator of riots.

The terrorist, Omar al-Abed, aged 19, comes from Kobar, a Palestinian village just a mile and a half from Chalamish. Dense forest land separates the two towns, but there is also a connecting road. Although a number of roads in the area are accessible to the Palestinian residents, they find the one that runs through Chalamish as most convenient; requests from the Jewish residents to ban them from that road for security reasons did not elicit the desired response from the authorities.

Seven months ago, a group of terrorists gathered at the perimeter of Chalamish and set fires which burned down 15 homes. Police are now looking into the possibility that Abed was one of them.

In any case, in the months since that incident, he organized further threatening incidents at Chalamish, all the while thinking of the possibility of a lethal attack. In the farewell message he posted just two hours prior to the attack on lail Shabbos, he wrote that he was going now to fulfill his dream of jihad.

The Israeli counter-terror cyber squad which only recently publicized the claim that it had thwarted almost 2,000 attacks through its monitoring of Palestinian social media networks, failed to identify this one in time. Had they spotted his message and alerted local security forces right away, he could have been arrested before even passing through the entrance to Chalamish.

Local civilian security in Chalamish itself also failed to prevent the tragedy. Despite the security center in the center of the town, where electronic sensors on the perimeter fence transmit signals of anything touching the fence, this intruder was not caught. Why not? Because the electronic sensors in the fence are sensitive to any touch, whether from an animal or a human being, and animals from the surrounding area frequently come into contact with the fence, making it harder to discern when a suspicious human might be prowling about.

A skilled security guard can tell the difference. But in this case, the terrorist climbed a tree branch and swung himself over the fence, and lightly grazed it as he did. The person on duty at the computer screen wasn’t sure if the signal indicated a person or a small animal, and hesitated.

In the end, it was decided to send a patrol to see what was going on. The person sent out to inspect the portion of the fence where the signal had been emitted, flashed his light and looked around a couple of times, but saw no evidence of illegal entry. In retrospect, an immediate search of the whole community should have been ordered, but it wasn’t.

The terrorist had by that time made his way quickly, in his white shirt, into the town, some distance from the fence. He looked for a likely target. Most people were already home after tefillah, and the streets were empty. He saw houses with one or two people in them, but kept going until he found one full of people…

He found the home of the Salomon family, where the table was set for the lail Shabbos meal and a shalom zachor for a grandson just born. The front door was open in anticipation of guests about to arrive.

Then came a gentle knock on the door. The older daughter went to answer it, Chaya Salomon Hy”d. As she did so, the terrorist rushed in with knife brandished, and began his murderous rampage.

The security failures are now under investigation.

From the beginning of the crisis at Har HaBayis a week before, it was clear to everyone that an incident like this was bound to be attempted, and that a high level of alertness was called for throughout the country. Yet, at the very place where it was needed, the security forces were asleep.