Killing of Jihad man was trigger for suicide bombing  

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In the single-storey hut with its bare concrete walls, they all agree that the saddest thing about Mohamed Nasr's death was the time of his birth. "He was the first boy to be born after seven girls," his cousin Siham says. "Think of it. Seven girls and then Mohamed arrived and now he is gone."

Old Haj Nasr sits cross-legged on the floor wearing a white head-dress, elbows resting on a cushion. He acknowledges that his son was a ninth grade drop-out; he was kind, he says, he kept some sheep but had no money to marry. "All I knew was that he was active in the first intifada," he says.

But Mohamed Nasr was more than that. Four days ago, the 28-year-old Palestinian walked into the Wall Street Café – in the Israeli suburb of Kiryat Motzkin north of Haifa – and blew himself up.

I've sat in these rooms before, the broken fathers always trying to show pride in the death of the young men whose portraits stare down from the glossy posters on the wall, but who set off to kill the innocent, the relatives anxious to add their twopence of praise. "Chivalrous" is the word they keep using about Mohamed Nasr. When I ask his father what he believes his son was thinking as he walked on to the terrasse of the Wall Street Café and touched the detonator on his waist, he just raises his arms in a helpless way. "I don't know," he replies. They all say that.

Nasr was born into occupation and despair, shot through the thigh when he was 15 after throwing stones at Israeli soldiers in the first intifada uprising in 1988. When the men in Qabatiya found a collaborator among them, they burnt his house and hanged him from an electricity pole.

Nasr drifted into a job with the Palestinian Authority – with Moussa Arafat's military intelligence service – as a prison guard, watching over the Islamic Jihad and Hamas men whom Moussa's cousin, Yasser Arafat, had locked up in the West Bank town of Jenin on Israel's orders.

One of them was Iyad Hardan, an intelligent, tough Jihad member whom Israel's death squads wanted to kill. He was studying at an open university and would regularly be freed from jail to attend classes. On 5 July, he went to make a call from a payphone in Jenin. The moment he lifted the receiver, it blew his head off. It was a turning point in Mohamed Nasr's life. He liked the prisoners he guarded.

"He had come to admire Hardan," another cousin – also Mohamed – recalls. "He was sad for days afterwards. He was angry like everyone else. I remember him saying that 'we are from God and we go back to God'. Then he started talking to us about how he wanted to be a martyr."

Other members of the family remember darker words. "Damn those who are behind this," Mohamed Nasr said. A few days later, in mid-July, he threw in his job, complaining he hadn't been paid for a month.

Jenin's school for suiciders seems to have been a sloppy affair, its Islamic Jihad cells containing at least one mole. A collaborator had prepared Hardan's murder and at least one of the men Islamic Jihad sent to die had already changed his mind and given himself up to the Israelis. Not Mohamed Nasr. "On the Sunday morning, he didn't have breakfast but he attended noon prayers," Siham says. "He took a bath, changed his clothes and said to his father, 'Do you want anything from me?' Then he asked to see his nephew, little Islam."

Islam is only four months old. Was Mohamed Nasr seeking some love of life in the child, having already abandoned his own? "He liked children," Siham continues. "He liked playing with them. He took coffee but didn't shave that day. He was wearing a beige shirt, white trousers and black boots. He didn't say where he was going. He had a mobile phone. He took it with him."

Not long after 3pm last Sunday, Mohamed Nasr picked up a taxi near Haifa. The Israelis had already set up roadblocks in the city – another collaborator appears to have warned them that a suicider was on his way – but they failed to intercept Nasr. The driver was to recall later how Nasr had been uncertain of his destination. "Three times, he made calls on his mobile and said, 'I can't find the place'," the taxi driver told reporters afterwards.

When he was asked about the taxi fare, Nasr said he didn't care how much it cost, heightening the driver's suspicions as he dropped him off close to the Wall Street Café. There were few guests and most of them were inside the building. It was to save their lives. The driver had decided to find an Israeli policeman and was telling one about his suspicions when Nasr walked into the café's terrasse bar.

Aharon Rozman, the owner, says Nasr approached a waitress, pulled up his shirt to reveal the explosives attached to his belt and asked the woman: "Do you know what this is?" She screamed one word – "terrorist" – and Rozman threw a chair at Nasr and lunged behind a pillar. In that moment, Nasr's hand moved to the detonator on his belt and ended his life. The explosives tore him to pieces. On the terrasse, the blast was spread over a wide area; the 20 Israelis inside were only slightly wounded. Covering its disappointment, Islamic Jihad announced Nasr's death as a "victory over Zionism" because he had successfully eluded Israeli security.

Did Nasr reflect in those last seconds that the Israelis he was trying to kill might have included children, perhaps as young as four-month-old Islam? Did he question the morality of trying to erase the lives of innocents? That his 28 years on earth were about to end?

His cousin Mohamed had pondered this question. "There would have been no thought about himself," he says. "He would think of many things except himself – he couldn't think about himself because he wanted to die. Any person who has accepted this form of sacrifice doesn't think about himself."

The Israelis retaliated by raiding Jenin and destroying its police station, unaware that it was their own murder of Hardan that sent Mohamed Nasr on his mission. The killing of Hardan – intended to strike fear into Islamic Jihad – had the opposite effect. It turned Nasr into a suicide bomber. A few hours after the Jenin raid Islamic Jihad promised there would be more.