Tel Aviv stabber recently returned from Mecca pilgrimage


JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Palestinian man who stabbed a dozen people in the Tel Aviv area, killing an American graduate student, recently returned from a pilgrimage to Muslim holy cities in Saudi Arabia.

Posts on the Facebook page of Bashar Massalha, 22, who lived in the West Bank Palestinian refugee camp in Qalqilya, showed that he spent 10 days in Mecca and Medina immediately before the attack at or near the Jaffa Port, The Times of Israel reported.

Previous posts show he was a traditional Muslim but not radicalized, and that he had contempt for Israel. Massalha was shot dead by police following his 20-minute rampage.

On Wednesday, the day after the attack and two others in Israel, the Fatah movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the perpetrators “martyrs” on its official Facebook page, according to Palestinian Media Watch.

Palestinian Authority TV called Taylor Force, the Vanderbilt University student on a school trip to Israel who was killed in the attack, as well as the other attack victims, “settlers,” according to PMW. Force’s wife also was seriously injured in the attack.

State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement issued Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., that the United States “condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s outrageous terrorist attacks in Jaffa, Petah Tikvah, and Jerusalem, which tragically claimed the life of U.S. citizen Taylor Allen Force and left many others severely injured.”

“We offer our heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Taylor and all those affected by these senseless attacks, and we wish a speedy recovery for the injured. As we have said many times, there is absolutely no justification for terrorism. We continue to encourage all parties to take affirmative steps to reduce tensions and restore calm.”

Force was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and served as a field artillery officer during tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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