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Jewish killer attacked mosque last year: Evidence is mounting that Baruch Goldstein was known to be dangerous well before the massacre, writes Sarah Helm

WELL before the Hebron massacre Baruch Goldstein had already flagged his deadly intentions. In October he poured acid over the floor of the Ibrahimi mosque, leaving giant holes in the rugs. On Friday the rugs were soaked in blood.

After the acid attack the Muslim authorities identified Goldstein as the culprit from the evidence of sanctuary guards. Goldstein also assaulted six worshippers inside the mosque. The authorities wrote to Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister, on 18 October 1993 'regarding the dangers' of Goldstein. 'These daily violations in the Ibrahimi mosque cannot be given silent treatment,' said the letter.

The Israeli government did nothing and Mr Rabin's office did not reply to the Islamic leaders' letter. It was one of many warnings about Goldstein that were ignored by the Israeli authorities.

For some time the American- born settler had been publicly declaring his readiness to attack Arabs. Four years ago an agent of Shin Bet, the Israeli internal security service that infiltrated Kach, the extremist group supported by Goldstein, warned his superiors that Goldstein was a danger. The agent told Yediot Ahronot, a mass- circulation daily paper, yesterday that Goldstein described in 1990 how: 'There will be a day when one Jew will take revenge on the Arabs.'

According to informed army sources, at the time of the massacre Goldstein's name was not on the list of 'wanted' Jewish extremists and his actions were not monitored.

The Israeli government is coming under mounting pressure to bear some responsibility for the Hebron slaughter. So far the leadership has dismissed the crime as the work of a lunatic that could not have been prevented. But evidence is mounting that the authorities also ignored evidence against many other extremists. Questions are being asked about religious settlers who serve in the Shin Bet inside the occupied territories and who may have some sympathy for extremists. Military rules, under which settlers do their reserve duty near where they live, are also being questioned.

Despite his known anti-Arab fanaticism, Goldstein served as a reserve captain in Hebron. As a result he had full access to security information about the Tomb of the Patriarchs, which made his mission simple to carry out.

Goldstein was even listed as the army doctor in case of emergency at the sanctuary and was frequently called on when clashes occurred. He therefore knew the duties and positions of army guards at the mosque and how to avoid them. His presence would not have been a surprise to the army guards.

More important, perhaps, he knew how to avoid the army video cameras in the mosque. Every moment of the massacre is recorded on film. However, according to military sources, Goldstein's entrance into the mosque is not shown. Early findings of an army inquiry said unconvincingly yesterday that the cameras were in the wrong place. More likely, Goldstein knew how to keep out of their range

Military sources are now confirming that the army guards on duty at the time were slovenly and ill-prepared for any emergency. Under special rules, drawn up after the intifada, a platoon of regular soldiers is assigned to the site, with a change-over each two months.

It is understood that as many as 60 soldiers should be on duty in the area at any one time, with up to 10 in the sanctuary itself. Special rules operate during the Muslim period of Ramadan, which is when the killings took place. In the hours before the massacre some soldiers assigned to be inside the mosque had not turned up for duty but had stayed at home to celebrate Purim, a Jewish festival, according to army sources, while others on duty were sleeping. The army confirmed four soldiers had not turned up.

Although the standing orders state that nobody should be allowed into the mosque carrying ammunition, nobody stopped Goldstein, who entered with at least three magazines. This may also partly explain why Goldstein was able to keep shooting for several minutes before he was attacked and then killed by the Palestinians.

The evidence of incompetent security lends credence to the many statements from witnesses that soldiers panicked and fired into the crowd, adding to the death toll. But the Israeli army said yesteday that all 111 bullets found in the mosque were from Goldstein's gun.

Soldiers on guard in the mosque have been held incommunicado in their Hebron barracks since the attack. The Israeli authorities have also hosed down the blood-drenched sanctuary, thereby removing evidence.