Bomb in Jerusalem another near miss

Palestinian kills self, wounds 13 in the fifth attack since Sunday

September 05, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - People have become familiar with the sounds: An explosion rips through crisp morning air as if a jet were breaking the sound barrier. People freeze and cars stop. Then wailing sirens fill the silence.

A Palestinian suicide bomber, dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew, blew himself up yesterday outside a hospital and a school on Prophet's Street, injuring 13 people but killing only the bomber.

He detonated the bomb before he reached his apparent target, Bikur Holim hospital, after a woman noticed something amiss about one man in a crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Police said the bomber wore a fake beard that was slightly askew and a white shirt that lacked the traditional fringed undergarment with visible tassels. His backpack seemed to sag with unusually heavy weight.

Suspicious, the woman flagged down two border police, who yelled to the man.

"He stopped and turned halfway toward us, with the bag facing us, smiled, stretched out his right hand toward his bag, to the outside pocket," said Maj. Guy Mugrabi, one of the officers. "That same second we put our hands on our guns. Before we were able to take them out, he exploded."

Though just 10 feet away, Mugrabi was only slightly injured. His partner bore the brunt of the blast and was in serious condition yesterday.

"There is no doubt that they prevented a terrible disaster," said Jerusalem police Chief Mickey Levy.

It was the fifth explosion since Sunday in the capital and occurred a block north of the pizzeria where a suicide bomber killed 15 people, including himself, last month.

The blast yesterday shook the edge of the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim, sending light fixtures crashing down in office conference rooms and knocking late sleepers out of their beds.

`We live in Jerusalem'

"It is only by a miracle that more people haven't been hurt and killed," said Dr. Raphi Pollack, the director of obstetrics at Bikur Holim. He stood on the hospital patio, sipping his morning coffee as he watched medical workers scrape the bomber's body parts off the pavement.

"We live in Jerusalem," he said, as if that explained everything.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for yesterday's attack. It clouded prospects for convening a meeting this week between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, at which they were expected to discuss a cease-fire to end 11 months of fighting.

"What is there to talk about now?" asked Raanan Gissin, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, in a statement from Moscow, where Sharon conferred with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

Representatives from Arafat's Palestinian Authority said they do not approve of terrorist attacks aimed at Israeli civilians, but blamed the bombings on Israel's policies of assassinating Palestinian militants, destroying homes and invading Palestinian territory.

A hard-line faction of the PLO, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, based in Syria, has claimed responsibility for several recent car bombings, which injured five people. The group said it was retaliating for Israel's assassination last week of the PFLP's leader, Mustafa Zibri, widely known as Abu Ali Mustafa, as he sat in his West Bank office.

6 arrested in bombings

Israeli police announced yesterday the arrests of six Palestinians from East Jerusalem allegedly linked to the Popular Front and accused them of planting two bombs last month - one in a car in Jerusalem's Russian Compound neighborhood and another hidden in a watermelon on a city bus.

Police listed 12 targets that the men, ages 19 to 24, said they had planned to attack soon, including a movie theater, a bus station, a nursery school and the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem. In one case, a suicide bomber was to blow himself up inside a restaurant in a Jerusalem suburb and then a car bomb would detonate to kill any survivors, police said.

Jerusalem has been under high security alert this week, as police worried about an attack coinciding with the start of the school year.

Hundreds of additional police and soldiers descended on the city after yesterday's explosion, boosting an already large security presence even as city residents seem to be disappearing from downtown streets.

Ghoulish scene at school

The blast occurred two blocks from the Anglican School, and in front of the Lycee Francais. Pierre Weill, a reporter for Radio France, had just parked his car by the French secondary school and opened the passenger door to let out his daughter Inez, 12. The bomb detonated as she put one foot outside.

Weill, unhurt, hurried his crying daughter into the school courtyard, where youngsters were waiting for classes to begin. The bomber's head landed in their midst, and police quickly covered it with a trash can.

The ghoulish scene was swept clean within hours. By noon, the only evidence of a bomb was black scarring on a high stone wall. Damaged cars had been towed. Shops reopened. And children at the Lycee Francais had retaken their courtyard and were playing basketball.

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