CBNNews.com - HAIFA, Israel - Alert civilians helped avert a major terror attack Saturday evening at a busy mall in the Israeli port city of Haifa.
When shoppers heard a small explosion in one of the mall's parking lots, they notified security, who notified police after finding a car rigged with 100 kilograms (more than 220 pounds) of explosives, packed in its trunk, meant to be detonated simultaneously.
The three-story mall, with its multiple movie theatres and some 100 shops, was packed with the usual Saturday night crowd of families with teenagers and younger children.
After evacuating the mall, police sappers spent hours detonating the massive payload, which was strategically placed to set cars in the parking lot on fire and collapse the building.
"Had the car bomb exploded, the majority of the cars in the parking lot would have gone up in flames. The gas in them could have exploded. This would have been a major terror attack," a police source said.
"There is no doubt that a good deal of planning went into this," Northern Police chief Commander Shimon Koren told Israel Radio.
Haifa police, who have been placed on a heightened state of alert, secured a court order banning media publication of the investigation.
"I promise the people of Israel that the police and the Shin Bet (General Security Agency) will reach the perpetrators," Koren said.
Later, a Palestinian terror group, calling itself "Free Galilee," claimed responsibility for the attack.
At Sunday's Cabinet meeting, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said it was "a miracle" that the attack failed and praised the response of alert civilians.
"As far as Israel is concerned, this was a terrorist attack in every sense," Olmert said. "Only the vigilance of citizens and the quick response by police and security forces prevented it," he said.
On Sunday morning, the mall reopened for business.
Sources: The Jerusalem Post, YNet news