21 people wounded in Talpiot industrial area, 1 in critical condition; Police launch investigation with Shin Bet, do not confirm terrorism as of Monday night.
Police confirmed that a bus explosion in the industrial area of Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood early Monday evening that wounded 21 people, including one critically, was the result of a bomb, but still stopped short of declaring it a terrorist attack.
Remarkably, no deaths were reported following the carnage on the major thoroughfare of Bar-Am Street, where two Egged buses and a third vehicle were reduced to exposed charred iron and ash.
After initial confusion over the cause of the fire, Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a forensics team, aided by bomb disposal experts at the site, confirmed the fires were ignited by an explosive device.
“But we are still questioning people who are in the hospital to determine what happened moments before the explosion, and despite strong evidence, we’re working carefully and cautiously to confirm whether it was a terrorist attack.”
Rosenfeld said police were reluctant to confirm the explosion was formally a terrorist attack until an investigation by police and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) was officially finalized.
At the scene of the attack, less than 30 minutes following the explosion, Daniel Katzenstein, an EMT and spokesman from United Hatzalah, said reports of the fires were first received at approximately 5:45 p.m.
“When the first call came in, it was involving two buses, and we immediately declared it a mass casualty incident,” he said, while standing a few meters from the burnt buses, and a third charred blue vehicle that caught fire.
“We got there when the buses were fully engulfed, and it was not clear if the fire was from an explosion or some kind of [malfunction]. Volunteers from around the area rushed to the scene and three people were seriously wounded – one of them in critical condition, and the two others in moderate-to-serious condition – with 17 others in light condition.”
Katzenstein said the victims were initially treated by ambucycle paramedics because ambulances were trapped in heavy traffic caused by the explosion.
He said that all the victims were treated on site, and promptly transferred to Shaare Zedek Medical Center and Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem and Mount Scopus.
At the scene, dozens of officers and IDF personnel cordoned off the area for at least one kilometer in both directions, while over 100 paramedics, firemen, and forensics specialists secured and investigated the area.
A sea of white foam used by firefighters to put out the blazes remained next to the charred remains, surrounded by shattered glass from the buses windows. The Holy Land residential complex was visible in the distance as the sun began to set.
Hundreds of concerned passersby stood nervously outside police lines attempting to learn what happened.
Jerusalem Fire Department Team Leader Aric Abouloff, whose face was partially covered in soot from helping to extinguish the blazes, said six fire trucks, a tanker, and rescue vehicle were dispatched to the scene.
“The moment we got here we saw that one of the buses was completely on fire, and a private blue vehicle next to it was also on fire,” he said.
“A second bus behind the first bus also caught on fire, so we immediately started to put out the fires using foam, and after we put it out made a quick search inside the buses and vehicle to make sure that nobody was trapped inside.”
Abouloff said it took approximately 30 minutes to put out the blazes, adding that he was astonished that no one was killed.
“There was a lot of luck here today,” he said. “It could have been much worse.”
On Monday night Hadassah University Medical Center spokeswoman Hadar Elboim said seven victims are being treated at its Ein Kerem hospital and three are at the Mount Scopus hospital.
“Four of the patients at Ein Kerem are in moderate-to-serious condition and the three being treated at Mount Scopus are in light condition,” said Elboim.
Meanwhile Shaare Zedek Medical Center spokeswoman Shoham Ruvio said one unidentified man, who is in critical condition, was undergoing emergency surgery at 9 p.m.
“One man is in very, very critical condition, and we have two others in moderate condition and seven others in very light condition,” she said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the explosion and fires to a stunned crowd during a speech he delivered in Binyamina on Monday evening, marking 85 years to the founding of the Irgun.
“We will find whoever prepared and dispatched the explosives, as well as those who helped them,” he said.
“We will settle accounts with those terrorists.”