An Israeli-Arab from Taybeh and several other Palestinians from the West Bank were arrested on Wednesday for their alleged role in the Tel Aviv bus bombing that wounded 28 people on Wednesday afternoon. After a manhunt lasting several hours that caused major disruptions across the country, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) apprehended the suspects Wednesday night in what was a joint operation with the Israel Police and the IDF. The arrests were subject to a media gag order until Thursday night.
Law enforcement officials say the Taybeh man and his handlers were part of a terrorist cell with links to Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). In their preliminary interrogation, the suspects confessed, saying they chose the venue for the attack and prepared the cellphone-activated explosive device.
The Palestinians, who reside in the West Bank village of Beit Lakiya, apparently told the Taybeh man to use his employer's car to drive to Tel Aviv, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Thursday. The employer, an east Jerusalem Arab, was not aware of the plan to use his car to enable the attack, Rosenfeld said.
After boarding the bus and planting the bomb, the man, who police declined to identify, got off and called the Palestinians, who remotely detonated the explosive by calling the phone, Rosenfeld said. The suspected bomber, who is originally from the West Bank, received Israeli citizenship under the family reunification law. The cell leader apparently recruited the Taybeh man for the mission because his documentation allowed him unrestricted travel inside Israel. Shin Bet officials stressed Thursday that the investigation is ongoing and may result in additional arrests.
In the wake of Wednesday's bombing in Tel Aviv Israel Police and Border Police have been deployed in larger numbers in the city. Police say the reinforcements will stay only for the next few days, unless Wednesday's cease-fire with Hamas (which ended Israel's military campaign in the Gaza Strip) unravels. Apart from the bombing, Tel Aviv was the target of several rocket salvos during the eight day operation.
Of those who were injured in the bus bombing, only three are still hospitalized. They all suffer from light to moderate injuries that involve both orthopedic and shrapnel wounds. Two additional bombing victims were released on Thursday. The attack brought back harsh memories of frequent bus bombings during last decade's violent Palestinian uprising.