A private vehicle wired with explosives and parked outside the Lev HaMifratz shopping mall in Haifa was neutralized by security forces on Saturday evening, preventing a potentially deadly attack. The bombs were found after a partial explosion occurred, alerting local security. Police are currently operating under the belief that the motive for the attempted bombing is nationalistic.
Sappers alerted to the scene worked for a lengthy period of time to dismantle the remaining explosives, which were concealed in a bag. According to the police, the largest of the explosive devices detonated partially, leaving the rest of it intact. A number of smaller charges spread around it also did not explode. Officers later said that current estimates put the weight of the explosives involved at nearly 100 pounds.
Police robot approaches the wired car (Photo: Shai Vaaknin)
The mall, adjacent to the outdoor, was evacuated for fear the remaining explosives would detonate. It will remain closed overnight as police continue to comb the area. The mall, which also houses a train station and neighbors a central bus terminal, has recently undergone major renovations and was renamed the 'Cinemall.'
Police forces swarmed the area after receiving reports of an explosion inside a white Subaru car, which is registered as belonging to a female resident of Jerusalem.
Northern District Police Commander, Major-General Shimon Koren, held a briefing at the scene: "At around 8:30 pm this evening, an explosion was heard near the Lev HaMifratz mall. The explosion brought a large number of police forces to the scene, and a number of additional explosive devices were discovered inside the car. We are currently engaged in a wide-reaching search for the person who parked the car here," he said.
Koren said that police are working in cooperation with the Shin Bet on the case, and that the assumption at present time is that the motive for the attempted bombing is terrorism. Police initially said that they were also exploring the possibility of a criminally-motivated attack.
Coastal Police chief Lt.-Cmdr. Roni Atiya addressed concerns regarding the perpetrators success at planting a bomb so close to the crowded mall. "It's important to stress that this is an outdoor parking lot and not one of the mall's underground or multi-story parking lots, so this is a car that didn't go through a security check and therefore the bomb wasn't found in due time. This was a big charge that could have caused a lot of damage to person and property. We expect to meet with this mall's administration to assess the situation and agree on future procedures, and we'll do so with other malls in the areas as well.
An organization calling itself the 'Galilee Freedom Battalions' claimed responsibility for the incident, however its credibility has been called into question. In a written statement the organization said: "This bomb was intended for the Zionists who visit the mall, and bringing it in was very complicated. At around 9:15 (pm). Immediately afterwards the cell left the area. Due to a technical defect or technical error, the bomb did not go off.
"This operation is part of the series of operations we promised you in response to the demolition of homes in east Jerusalem and the slaughter carried out by the occupation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. This operation is just the beginning."
However the organization's claims have been called into doubt. In the past the group has claimed responsibility for criminal acts too, such as the murder of Justice Adi Azar.
Roee Nahmias contributed to this report