Jerusalem Stabbing: ISIS Claims First Deadly Attack in Israel

Jerusalem's Damascus Gate
Israeli security forces patrol outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on June 16, 2017 following an attack. An Israeli policewoman was stabbed and critically wounded in the attack, police said, with security forces shooting dead three suspected Palestinian assailants. Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty

The Islamic State militant group (ISIS) claimed a deadly attack in Israel for the first time Friday, after three Palestinian men stabbed and killed an Israeli police officer in Jerusalem.

The attack took place in two adjacent areas near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City. At one, a Palestinian fatally stabbed policewoman 23-year-old Hadas Malka. A short distance away, two Palestinians opened fire and tried to stab a group of Israeli police officers. Police shot them dead.

"With God's help, we succeeded in carrying out an attack in the heart of Jerusalem, near the Temple Mount," ISIS said in a statement on its Amaq news agency. It gave each attacker a nom-de-guerre,with each one holding the last name Al-Maqdisi. Maqdisi is an Arabic term for a Palestinian Jerusalemite.

"Soldiers of the caliphate" struck a "gathering of Jews," the statement said. The attack "will not be the last," it added.

The group's affiliate in Egypt, Sinai Province, claimed responsibility for a rocket fired into southern Israel in April, but it hit a greenhouse and no one was harmed. Friday's assault is the first ISIS-claimed attack on Israeli soil that has resulted in injuries or deaths. Another Israeli police officer was lightly wounded in the attack, and two Palestinian bystanders were wounded in the shootout that followed the initial assault.

The claim comes in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in which the jihadi group has called for a surge of attacks. But Israel's Shin Bet and Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip and has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, said the attackers were members of Palestinian groups.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, rejected the ISIS claim, calling it "one of the Israeli intelligence's fabrications." He said it was a move to "confuse the media and distort the reputation of the Palestinian resistance." He confirmed one of the attackers was a member of Hamas and the other two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Read more: Israeli president: ISIS is 'already here'

Israel's Shin Bet security service said all three men had been arrested previously for extremist activity related to Palestinian groups. It identified two of the men as Bra'a Salah and Asama Atta, born in 1998, and the third as Adel Ankush, born in 1999. All three were from the West Bank village of Deir Abu-Mashal, near the city of Ramallah, the Times of Israel reported.

Israeli figures pointed the blame at Palestinian leaders. "The payments made by the Palestinian Authority to terrorists and their families encourage heinous attacks like we saw today," Israel's ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon said.

While difficult to verify the ISIS claim, the group claimed responsibility in the immediate hours after the attack, rather than waiting a day to claim, as they have done with previous attacks across Europe. And they do not claim every attack. On January 8, a Palestinian drove a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers, killing four. ISIS did not claim the attack, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the attacker a supporter of the group.

Instead, an obscure Palestinian group known as the "Groups of Martyr Baha Eleyan" claimed responsibility. The group said it had "no links outside Palestine," and justified the attack "in defense of our Jerusalem." The city, particularly the Old City, which hosts Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, is one of the most contested pieces of land in the Middle East, maybe the world.

Israel is a prominent subject in ISIS's propaganda output, with the group regularly stating that it seeks to take over Jerusalem, where the third-holiest site in Islam—the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary—and the most holy in Judaism—known to Jews as the Temple Mount—is located. Israeli security services say the group has small pockets of support in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, but the majority of Palestinians support rival Palestinian factions Fatah or Hamas.

In January 2016, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said ISIS is already present in Israel among the country's Arab communities, who make up almost 20 percent of Israel's population.

"The Islamic State is already here, that is no longer a secret. I am not speaking about territories bordering the State of Israel, but within the State itself," he said in a speech at Tel Aviv University. "Research studies, arrests, testimonies, and overt and covert analyzes…clearly indicate that there is increasing support for the Islamic State among Israeli Arabs, while some are actually joining ISIS," he added.