From staff and JTA reports
An unsuccessful terror attack at the Lev Hamifratz mall in Haifa on March 21 reverberated in the Deep South as two families in Birmingham’s Jewish community had a close call.
Talor Bearman and Kayla Perlstein, both from Birmingham, were in the mall that evening seeing a movie with Harrison Bailey, an Israel Defense Forces soldier from Mississippi.
Bearman is currently serving in the IDF, while Perlstein, a sophomore at the University of Alabama, was visiting family in Israel during Spring Break.
According to an email sent by Perlstein to the Birmingham Jewish Federation, the three went to the mall for dinner and a movie on her last night in Israel. “All of a sudden the movie stopped and some men came in and started speaking in Hebrew.”
Bailey told them that the men were talking about a bomb threat and they had to leave the mall immediately. Outside, he asked an officer what was happening, and was told to get “the hell out of there.”
Perlstein recalled, “When we got outside, we saw that all of the roads were blocked off for miles. People were not allowed to go to their cars and there was only one way out.”
An explosives-laden car was discovered in the parking lot of the shopping center after one of the bombs partially exploded. Police immediately evacuated the mall and police sappers deactivated the remaining unexploded bombs, which could have caused severe damage and many deaths, according to reports.
The mall and surrounding area reopened the next day. A train station is located at the mall, which is adjacent to Haifa’s central bus station.
Police believe Palestinian terrorists were behind the attack, according to reports. The white Subaru car was registered to a woman from eastern Jerusalem, though police believe it was stolen.
An Israeli-Arab group calling itself Galilee Freedom Fighters claimed responsibility for the attempted attack, according to the daily Ha’aretz. The group is apparently unknown to Israeli security forces.
“As far as Israel is concerned, this was a terrorist attack in every sense,” Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet meeting on March 22. “The State of Israel views this terror attack seriously.
“We mustn’t kid ourselves. The attempted terror attacks in the State of Israel continued and continue, originating among other places in the West Bank, where Hamas seeks to establish its infrastructure and status. It seeks to do so by continuing on the road of terror and causing heavy damage to Israel’s citizens.”
Perlstein said “As scared as I was, I still felt some sort of security being in the company of two soldiers. All in all, I would still go back to Israel.”