Jerusalem stabbing: British student, 20, killed close to Old City

Peter Beaumont in Jerusalem

The young British victim of a fatal stabbing in Jerusalem has been named as Hannah Bladon, 21, a University of Birmingham student who was visiting the city as part of an exchange programme.

She was killed on Friday as thousands of Jewish and Christian pilgrims descended on the city’s holy sites for Good Friday and the Passover holiday.

The attack, which police said involved a Palestinian assailant with a history of mental health issues, took place on the city’s light railway, not far from the Old City. According to witnesses, paramedics at the scene attempted to give CPR to the unconscious victim who had been stabbed in the chest several times.

The Israeli ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, said Bladon was attending an exchange programme at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “My thoughts are with the family and friends of UK student Hannah Bladon, who was murdered in a senseless act of terror in Jerusalem today,” he said.

The University of Birmingham said: “We are deeply saddened to hear about the death of Hannah Bladon. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”

The tram was approaching its stop at about 1pm when the attacker stood up abruptly, produced a knife and launched his attack on Bladon who was next to him.

According to one report in the Times of Israel – sourced to the police – the assailant had been returning home from a mental health care unit in northern Israel when the attack occurred. He was identified in the local media as Jamil Tamimi.

Despite efforts to provide first aid, authorities at the Hadassah hospital Mount Scopus later announced that Bladon had died of her injuries shortly after being admitted.

The scene of the knife attack in Jerusalem. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

On Friday night a Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We can confirm the tragic death of a British national in Jerusalem. We are providing support to her family at this difficult time and are in touch with local authorities.”

The Rothberg International School, part of the Hebrew University, said Bladon had been on a religious studies course in Birmingham. She had been studying classes in bible studies, archaeology and Hebrew during her exchange programme. It said: “Her friends described her as an inquisitive and adventurous student who made the most of her opportunity to learn and experience life in Israel.”

The alleged attacker was arrested at the scene after being overpowered. Reports described him as a 57-year-old East Jerusalem resident from the Palestinian Ras al-Amud neighbourhood who has a criminal record and suffers from mental health problems and has made a recent attempt to kill himself.

Video footage from the immediate aftermath of the attack showed the assailant being wrestled to the ground by police and bystanders and disarmed outside the carriage of the tram.

Photographs issued by police showed the weapon was a large wooden-handled kitchen knife.

Yoram Halevi, a police commander in the city, told Israel radio that the suspect had a history of domestic violence, sexual assault and mental illness that had put him in hospital.

“We can say the terrorist is relatively old, 57 years of age,” Halevi said. “He is very mentally unstable.”

The Israeli domestic security service, the Shin Bet, said the attacker was known as being a troubled individual who was known to authorities.

It speculated that the motive for the attack may have also involved “suicide by soldier”, which has been apparent in other incidents in the past 18 months. “This is another incident of many in which a Palestinian suffering from mental health or personal issues has chosen to carry out an attack as a way out of his problems,” Shin Bet said.

Police had been on high alert for Passover, with 1,500 officers on duty in the city, when tens of thousands of Jews pray at the Western Wall inside the Old City and some visit the flashpoint al-Aqsa mosque compound above it.

The compound, which is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site to Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount, is the source of tensions. A wave of unrest that erupted in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 260 Palestinians, 41 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese, according to a count by Agence France-Presse.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, the Israeli authorities say. Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip.

Although the violence has greatly subsided in recent months, there have been three attacks in the run-up to, and during, Passover.

Commenting on the attack, Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, said he was “filled with sadness” at the “terrible news”.

“This week, thousands have come through the ancient gates of Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts of Passover and Easter throughout the city – while the security forces work to ensure the safety of the dear residents and visitors to the city. And so we will continue to do,” he said.

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