Secret police knew of plot to kill Rabin

Israeli security lapses: Shin Bet was told weeks ago about conspiracy to kill and plant bombs 9 Thousands at London memorial service
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The Independent Online

Tel Aviv

The Shin Bet, Israel's internal security agency, was told of the plot to kill Yitzhak Rabin weeks before the assassination, the authorities have acknowledged. The service failed to act because the informant did not specifically name Yigal Amir, the assassin who police now believe made at least five attempts to kill the Prime Minister.

Fresh evidence that the Shin Bet not only allowed Amir to fire two shots into Rabin's chest at point-blank range but had information about the group that was stalking the Prime Minister is bound to create fresh controversy about the security services in Israel.

Arik Schwartz, a soldier from the Golani brigade in which Amir also served, was arrested at the weekend. A cache of weapons, including hand grenades and explosives, was found at his parents' house. Police say the group, as well as killing Rabin, planned to explode bombs in Palestinian cities to stop Israeli withdrawal.

The Shin Bet learned in general terms about the conspiracy from a man who says he was "shocked somebody he knew was planning to assassinate the Prime Minister".

He was questioned after the assassination on 4 November but was released. The Shin Bet failed to identify the plotters from his description.

Amir first intended to shoot Rabin with a sniper's rifle outside his home in Tel Aviv. The conspirators traced the Prime Minister's movements and studied his security arrangements to get a clear shot, according to a report on Israeli television.

At least 250,000 Israelis returned yesterday to the Tel Aviv square where Rabin was assassinated to say a final farewell at the end of the traditional seven-day Jewish period of mourning. The acting Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, attended the ceremony despite reported warnings from Israeli security chiefs to stay away.

He sat far back from the crowd with other dignitaries and later went to Labour Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, where he was expected to be chosen officially as party leader.

"I appeal to you, Shimon Peres, to continue to guide the Israeli nation to peace in the path and spirit of Yitzhak," Rabin's widow Leah said in an emotional address. "Now the silent majority will be silent no longer." Mr Peres, earlier told a memorial meting of the ruling Labour Party there were "a lot of people on the edge of insanity who think they are God's messengers. In fact they are the devil's disciples."

The concrete paving stones in Malchei Yisrael Square, which is to be renamed Yitzhak Rabin Square, are slippery from the wax of thousands of memorial candles that people have left at the site of the assassination. Walls are covered with hand-written messages and pictures of Rabin and some tree trunks are draped in black. In the centre of the square yesterday, a man was shouting abuse at the right-wing Likud party for setting the stage for the assassination by its harsh rhetoric.

At the weekend, Moshe Shahal, the Police Minister, spelled out details of the organisation, which, he said, had planned two actions: "The first was the murder of the Prime Minister, the second was the organising by extremists of attacks on Palestinian targets after the implementation of Israeli redeployment." Earlier, the Shin Bet had said it had found no evidence of a conspiracy. "What looked like an attack by an individual slowly appears as the organisation of several people and even an orderly organisation," said Dan Arbel, a magistrate investigating the assassination.

The discovery of a conspiracy among the religious right will inflame the political atmosphere, especially if extremist rabbis are found to have given their blessing to Rabin's murder. Police are protecting Rabbi Yoel Bin-Nun. He had vowed to expose rabbis who believed Rabin should be killed for agreeing to hand the West Bank back to the Palestinians. Jewish extremists threatened Rabbi Bin-Nun's life.

The security forces were present in large numbers around Rabin's grave on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem yesterday as Mrs Rabin and her family came to pay their respects.

This contrasts with their previous laxity. One right-wing activist boasted to Israeli television last month of how he had stripped a hood ornament from Rabin's car when hundreds of protesters surrounded the vehicle outside the parliament.

He said: "Just like we got the ornament, we can also get Rabin.''

Reports that a telephone hot line in New York has already raised $100,000 for Amir's defence are fuelling demands in Israel that Jewish extremists from the US should not be allowed to emigrate to Israel.

In the Albert Hall in London last night, 6,000 British mourners listened to Rabin's recorded voice pleading for peace while Britain's Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, asked in an anguished voice at a memorial service for Rabin: "What will we have gained if we make peace with our enemies and fail to make peace among ourselves?"

Rabin's photograph looked out on the mourners as his voice, on a video, said the "time for peace" had come when he shook hands with Yasser Arafat at the White House in 1993.

Moshe Raviv, the Israeli ambassador, said: "Some will ask, why were we silent, when violent rhetoric and incitement was used against the government and Yitzhak Rabin, personally . . . As a society, we shall have to ponder how to instill tolerance and restraint and how to prevent the nurturing of zealots."

"But . . . no fringe will dictate our destiny and no gunman will block peace," he added.

The Foreign Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind, just back from the Middle East, said the most important thing he had witnessed was "the irreversibility of what has been achieved" through the peace process.