Boy 'suicide bomber' arrested by Israelis

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The Independent Online

The Israeli Army produced for the television cameras yesterday a teenage boy they accused militant factions of having turned into a "human bomb" by sending him across a checkpoint in an explosive vest.

The Israeli Army produced for the television cameras yesterday a teenage boy they accused militant factions of having turned into a "human bomb" by sending him across a checkpoint in an explosive vest.

The boy, who said he was 14 and could be one of the youngest ever would-be suicide bombers, was ordered to stop at gunpoint as he moved towards a group of Israeli soldiers. Instead of running on and detonating the vest, he halted and raised his hands, an Army spokesman said.

In the latest intensification of its campaign to publicise what the spokesman says is the increasing use of children by the armed factions, the Army invited reporters to film the boy within hours of his detention and before he had been interrogated. Reporters were not allowed to interview the boy, named as Hussam Abdu, though in answer to shouted in Arabic by a television crew he said he was 14 and in the eighth grade and nodded when asked whether he knew what he had been carrying. The explosives which the Army said had been in the vest were later detonated nearby.

There was some confusion about the boy's age, who was filmed looking frightened and wearing a oversize Army jacket over his blue jeans which had been lent him by soldiers. Originally the Army said he was as young as ten while the family told a reporter in Nablus that the boy was 16. A spokesman for the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade ­the militant faction linked to Yasser Arafat's Fatah ­ also in inisted the boy was 16.

Abed Khabesa, a Palestinian cameraman who filmed the episode, said yesterday that he had been driving from Hawara at around 1.30pm and was between the two checkpoints before the entry to Nablus when he noticed that no one was passing through the second checkpoint.

He was told by an Israeli official he knows well that a suicide bomber had been detained on the approach from the other, Nablus, side of the second checkpoint. He asked if he could film what was happening and after the official had sought permission was told that he could.

"The boy was about 30 metres from the second checkpoint. He had his hands on his head. He was wearing a red jacket which he took off. Some Druze soldiers who spoke Arabic were hiding behind the concrete blocks at the checkpoint and shouting at him what to do. He took off his jacket and I saw that he was wearing a sort of grey vest. I could see him taking off one side of the vest and then the other. The vest slipped down to the ground."

Mr Khabesa said the soldiers also ordered the boy briefly to lower his trousers and then hitch them up again. They then warned him to keep away from the vest.

The Army said that that the boy had been running towards the soldiers, apparently after soldiers at the checkpoint had spotted something abnormal about the boys clothing as he stood in the queue to the checkpoint. The soldiers were on high alert after an incident exactly a week ago when soldiers apprehended at the same checkpoint a 10-year-old boy who they said had been carrying a bomb in one of two plastic bags he was carrying.

Military sources said the boy had said that he received 100 shekels ­ about £15 ­ for the attack. Local media said that a Tanzim cell from the Balata refugee camp in Nablus took responsibility. Army Radio reported that the belt failed to detonate due to a technical flaw, but Channel 1 television later said that Israeli sappers had discovered no problem with the explosives and had speculated that the boy had simply lost his nerve.

The family of the boy said he was mentally slow. "He doesn't know anything," his brother, Hosni, said. Soldiers said they had received intelligence that there was an attack planned there, shut down the crossing and began searching people.

The boy, wearing an oversized red jersey, approached them in a suspicious way, said Lieutenant Tamir Milrad, an officer at the checkpoint. They ordered him to take off his jersey, revealing a large grey bomb vest underneath. "He told us he didn't want to die. He didn't want to blow up," Lt Milrad said. He cut off the vest after they sent him scissors with a small robot.

"This is another horrific example of how the Palestinians use their own children to spread terror against Israelis," said David Baker, an official in the prime minister's office. "These children are turned into human time-bombs for the purpose of spreading as much terror against Israelis as possible," he said.

Abdu's mother voiced astonishment at the incident. "Hussam left home this morning to school, and this was the first we hear of what happened," Tamam Abdu said Nablus, just north of Hawara. "This is shocking. To use a child like this is irresponsible, forbidden."

* Britain said yesterday that it would freeze assets held in the UK by five leading figures in Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, including its new leader Abdel Aziz Rantissi, on grounds that they were guilty of participating in acts in terrorism.