A car thief broke through a checkpoint at Ben Gurion Airport with a stolen vehicle on Sunday after making a wrong turn into one of Israel's most secure facilities, causing hysteria among travelers.
The breach set off a security alert throughout the airport, which acts as Israel's primary gateway, and passengers at the airport’s departure Terminal 3 were instructed to get down to the ground for fear of a terrorist attack.
Once the driver was caught by airport security, a preliminary interrogation showed that the vehicle was stolen and the Palestinian driver and another passenger who was with him were attempting to flee with it.
According to the police, the driver rammed through the checkpoint while driving against traffic and was later stopped by airport security following a brief pursuit. Once the car was stopped, the driver exited the vehicle and attempted to flee on foot before being shot in the foot by officers, causing him minor injuries.
The suspects were arrested and taken for further questioning, with police adding that the two were Palestinians illegally in Israel from the West Bank.
The Israel Airport Authority said that “security guards noticed the vehicle speeding toward the Ben Gurion Airport checkpoint and breaking through it, and acted to stop it by chasing it, shooting at it, and placing roadblocks until the vehicle stopped.”
Harel, a passenger who was in the airport’s Terminal 3 during the incident, described the event. “They called on everybody to drop to the ground and follow security's instructions. Everyone panicked, we lied on the ground for about half an hour, and we heard rumors that a terrorist had breached the airport, it was bedlam – but everything calmed down eventually.”
Another witness named Eyal added: “They told us to hit the deck and we didn’t know what was happening, we were anxious for several minutes.”
A cab driver working at the airport said that “I was standing next to my cab when suddenly security guards started shouting and herded people into the terminal. It was a mess, I don’t remember anything like that happening.”
Pini Schiff, a former security director at Ben Gurion Airport, said that while the handling of the incident went according to standard procedure, it might have caused unnecessary panic.
“I always said that the last place a car thief would want to end up in is Ben Gurion because he has no chance of escaping alive or without being arrested," he said.
"This is the third incident of this kind this year, and in none of them did the suspects target the airport. This isn’t a terrorist, it’s a car thief that was being chased and broke through a checkpoint that was in his way.
According to Schiff, “emergency protocol is activated at the airport as soon as someone breaks into the facility and he has no chance to reach the terminals, asking the passengers to get on the ground is done according to protocol. I think they have overblown the event by asking people to get down.
"It’s important to stress that the suspects couldn’t have reached the terminal, and since he attempted to run over security guards, shots were fired at the vehicle. The drama wasn’t necessary since the suspect didn’t target the airport, and was far away from the terminals.”