The parents of the 3-month-old girl killed when a Palestinian motorist with a history of anti-Israel violence slammed his car into a crowded train station in Jerusalem Wednesday are originally from upstate New York, according to a family spokesman.
The girl and her parents, who were both injured, were standing in the station when the car plowed through a crowd in what Israeli officials are calling a terrorist attack. Six other people were hurt.
The girl is a U.S. citizen but was born in Israel. The spokesman said her parents are originally from Monsey, a Rockland County community with a large community of Orthodox Jewish people.
The girl's grandparents, who still live in New York, had visited her in Jerusalem and had taken the infant to the Western Wall to pray days before the attack. Her grandmother landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport late Wednesday, heard about the attack and booked a return flight for her granddaughter's burial, the family said.
"She left Israel saying goodbye to a little bundle of joy and less than 24 hours, she's back and all that's left is a cornerstone and pictures and memories of this innocent pure soul," said Rabbi Yisroel Kahan in Monsey, who knows the family.
"She is a pure baby girl who hasn't done anything bad to anyone," Shimshon Halperin, the girl's grandfather, who is Israeli, told Channel 2 TV. "She was murdered for no reason."
The car struck the train station near the national headquarters of Israel's police force. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the driver got out of the car and tried to flee before he was shot by a police officer.
He said footage captured by security cameras indicated the driver deliberately struck people waiting at the stop.
"We look at this incident as a terrorist attack," Rosenfeld said. He said the area was cordoned off and forensic and bomb disposal experts were on the scene examining the car.
Rosenfeld said the driver, a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, was in serious condition. He added that the driver "has served time in Israeli prison for terrorism." Israeli media reported he was a member of the Islamic militant group Hamas.
The Israeli government informed the U.S. that Hamas was believed to be responsible for the attack, a U.S. official said.
It wasn't clear, however, if the attack was the work of a lone wolf, the official added. There was no immediate information of any orders to carry out the attack delivered by high-level members of Hamas, the official said.
Silwan, a predominantly Arab neighborhood, has seen tensions spike in recent weeks since Jewish nationalists moved into several homes in Arab areas.
The home sales have been facilitated by nationalist Jewish groups intent on solidifying the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem. Palestinians, who seek east Jerusalem as their capital, consider the arrival of their Jewish neighbors to be a provocation.
East Jerusalem has experienced months of unrest since a wave of violence erupted over the summer. Train passengers have reported Palestinians attacking the carriages with rocks and other violence.
The unrest began with the kidnapping and killings of three teenage Israelis, including one with ties to New York, in the West Bank in June by a pair of Hamas operatives. Several weeks later, Jewish extremists kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager in east Jerusalem. Then, on July 8, Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza in response to heavy rocket fire.
East Jerusalem is home to Jerusalem's more than 200,000 Arab residents, as well as 200,000 Israelis.
Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement that the U.S. condemned the attack and expressed condolences to the family.
"We urge all sides to maintain calm and avoid escalating tensions in the wake of this incident," she said.
Barkat said police presence would be beefed up in the city.
"We must restore peace and security in Jerusalem," he said. "The situation in Jerusalem is intolerable and we must act unequivocally against all violence taking place in the city."