NEW: Israeli military interviews suspect's family about his political ties, uncle says
NEW: "We said that Hamzeh never had any political affiliation," uncle says about nephew
Witnesses, police: Driver tried to fight back by veering bus and using pepper spray
The 911 caller in Tel Aviv sounded panicked, his voice loud and urgent.
“She was stabbed in the head!”
Go to Hamasger Street, the caller shouted.
A man stabbed nine people, including the driver of a bus and passengers on Wednesday, in what police are calling a terror attack.
The girl, was she conscious? the 911 operator asked.
“Yes, yes, she is crying, she is conscious,” the caller answered.
The attacker was a 23-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Tulkarem, authorities said. Police shot him in the leg after he got off the bus. He was arrested and is being questioned, they said.
Who is the suspect?
The suspect was identified as Hamzeh Matrouk, said Israeli authorities and the suspect’s family.
His uncle, Ahmad Matrouk, said his nephew lives with his mother in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The suspect’s father lives in another West Bank city, Tulkarem, where the uncle was interviewed by CNN.
“Hamzeh has no political affiliation,” the uncle said. “We were called by the Israeli military to come in for questioning. His father, mother and myself, we went and they were asking us about his political affiliation. We said that Hamzeh never had any political affiliation.”
When asked what could be a motive for the suspect’s attack, the uncle said it was “because of what he sees of suffering of the Palestinians by Israel. The daily attacks by the extremist Jews and Israelis on the Aqsa mosque and especially this summer the killing of more than 2,100 Palestinians by Israel in Gaza.”
The suspect works as an electrician supporting his mother and his younger brothers, the uncle said.
“He came to see his father last night and his friends last night, and he was in his nature nothing suspicious,” the uncle said.
The uncle said his nephew, born in late 1992, was age 22, not 23 as authorities reported. Israeli authorities couldn’t be immediately reached for comment to clarify the suspect’s age, but a government website stated the suspect was born in 1992, was originally from Tulkarem, and had no prior arrests.
Prison guards assist
Witnesses and police say that when the attacker boarded the bus and stabbed the driver and a few passengers, the driver tried to fight back by spraying the assailant with pepper spray, veering the bus, pumping the brakes and opening the doors. Some passengers were able to get out and get away. The attacker ran after them and stabbed a few people on his way out of the bus.
Prison guards who were in their car behind the bus got out of their vehicle and chased the assailant, witnesses and police said. The attacker was shot in the leg and apprehended.
Four victims were seriously wounded, according to emergency responders. Five people were either lightly or moderately injured, emergency services said. Several other passengers were treated for shock.
One person was severely injured, officials told CNN, and the attacker remains in moderate condition at a Tel Aviv hospital.
‘Covered with blood’
The terror of the victims and the chaos during the attack was captured in other 911 calls.
An injured woman can be heard telling an operator, “My body is covered with blood.”
In a separate call, another woman says, “I have here a wounded man who is heavily bleeding, someone has to come for help, he is bleeding from the head from his neck, that is what I see.”
The operator tells her to find a clean piece of cloth and press it against the man’s wounds.
“The heroic stabbing incident against the Zionist in Tel Aviv is a daring and heroic act,” he reportedly said. “It comes as a natural response to the terrorist occupation crimes against our people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired back, casting a net of blame around Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which together form a unity government.
“The terrorist attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement being disseminated by the Palestinian Authority against the Jews and their state. This same terrorism is trying to attack us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere.”
The U.S. Embassy in Israel, on its website, said that due to security concerns on Israel’s northern border, all U.S. government personnel must get advance approval to travel within 1.5 miles of the Lebanese border or east of Route 98 in the Golan Heights. And, it said, in light of the bus attack, U.S. government employees are prohibited from using public buses throughout Israel and the West Bank.
There has been a string of attacks against Israeli residents in recent months.
Here is a look at a few of them:
– A Palestinian man threw acid on an Israeli family near a Jerusalem checkpoint in December, Israeli authorities said.
– A teenage Palestinian girl with a knife stabbed an Israeli man in the West Bank, Israeli police said.
–Two Palestinian cousins stormed a Jerusalem synagogue in mid-November with a gun and butcher’s knives, killing five. They were shot dead by police.
– Days later, Israeli authorities said they foiled a plot by Palestinians to assassinate Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
– More than a week earlier, attackers stabbed one Israeli soldier to death in Tel Aviv and three more Israelis near a West Bank settlement, the IDF said. One of the West Bank victims also died.
– In early November, a Palestinian man driving a van plowed into pedestrians at a train stop in eastern Jerusalem, killing two. Another 12 people were injured. The man died in police gunfire after also attacking people with a metal bar, police said.
– In October, a Palestinian man rammed his car into commuters waiting at a light rail stop in Jerusalem, killing a baby and wounding several other people, Israeli police said. The driver of the vehicle was shot as he tried to flee and later died.
– Also in October, according to a Palestinian state news report, an Israeli man killed a 5-year-old Palestinian girl when he ran her down in a car as she walked home from kindergarten. The attack reportedly also injured a second 5-year-old girl.
CNN’s Amir Tal, Michael Schwartz and Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem contributed to this report.