Hours before Obama arrives, another Palestinian rampage

JERUSALEM — A lone Palestinian driving a heavy construction backhoe went on a short rampage Tuesday afternoon, smashing into a bus and several cars before being shot dead within view of the Jerusalem hotel where Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is expected to stay this evening.

At least 16 people were injured before a driver and a police officer shot the attacker.

The attack appeared to be a copycat of an attack July 2 in which a Palestinian construction worker killed three people before being shot dead.

"He didn't care for nothing, not even his own life," said Eran Sternberg, a Jerusalemite who captured the driver's final moments with a cell phone camera.

Police said the attacker was a 29-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem who had a criminal record and appeared to be acting alone.

The rampage came hours before Obama was scheduled to arrive on the final leg of his Middle East visit. The Illinois senator's aides said he had no plans to change his schedule.

Obama is expected to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders Wednesday before heading to Berlin for the next leg of his international tour.

Avriram Amsalem was driving to a meeting with his 9-year-old daughter when he saw the backhoe smashing into a car and turning it over. Amsalem said he grabbed his daughter and ran to a park alongside the King David Hotel, where they hid on the grass as the attacker was shot dead.

"The minute I saw him turn over the first car, I knew it was a terror attack," Amsalem said.

The attacker first hit a bus on a side street across from the King David Hotel, which served as the Jerusalem headquarters for the British Mandate authorities until 1948. After hitting the bus, the attacker crushed one car and flipped another on its hood before being shot.

At least five vehicles were damaged.

Since the attack came about three weeks after the first such rampage, eyewitnesses questioned whether there might be a trend.

"If this is a copycat, what did we learn from the first?" asked Kenny Lerner, a Jerusalemite who saw the attack unfold. "I want to find out what is going on. Are they being brainwashed? Are they being blackmailed? You can't say this is an isolated thing. Not the second time."

Ilan Franco, Jerusalem's police chief, said at the scene that the city had to do more to prevent such attacks.

"We are not blaming all East Jerusalem residents, but there are exceptions," Franco said. "We can't stop every incident, but we are trying to learn our lessons and stop the next attack."

(Churgin is a McClatchy special correspondent.)