Bus driver confronted with bomb

2 Israelis held down killer while passengers fled

October 11, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TEL AVIV, Israel - The man slipped as he leaped at rush hour yesterday morning for the closing rear door of the bus, falling backward and striking his head on the pavement. So Baruch Neuman, the driver, set his handbrake and ran to help, with a medic who happened to be nearby.

The medic started unbuttoning the man's shirt to help him breathe. "The first button, the second button, the third button - and then we saw the belt," Neuman said, recalling the moment when he realized he was facing not an innocent victim or a fare evader but a suicide bomber.

Screaming to the passengers to run, Neuman and the medic each grabbed one of the bomber's hands and pinned him to the pavement, clinging to the living bomb to give the soldiers, university students and others who were packed aboard the bus time to escape.

"I just was thinking at any moment it was going to blow," Neuman said. "And I looked at him, and I wondered, `Why are you doing this?'"

In the end, not everyone escaped. A 71-year-old woman was killed and at least 12 people were wounded in the first suicide bombing in Israel since Sept. 19 - when another bus was struck, also in Tel Aviv.

Neuman said he pleaded with the bomber, telling him that his potential victims had escaped and that he did not have to die. "I said to him, `Save yourself,'" he said. "But he didn't react."

Dazed and bleeding, the bomber began moving his legs, and Neuman, noticing wires leading down from the explosive belt, feared he might be able to detonate his weapon that way.

Neuman said the medic, whose name he did not know, turned to him and suggested they make their own escape before their captive could blow himself up. They counted to three, he said, then let go. As they ran one way, the bomber climbed to his feet, walked unsteadily a few steps in the opposite direction and exploded.

Lt. Gil De Louya had also gone to help the wounded man, and then, watching over the medic's shoulder, he had glimpsed the bomb.

De Louya could have sprinted off but, recruited by circumstances to a different duty than Neuman's, he chose instead to walk beside an elderly woman who was moving slowly away from the bus.

The nails packed into the bomb ripped into them both as the blast threw them to the ground.

"The woman next to me was covered in blood," De Louya said quietly, as he lay in Tel Hashomer Hospital with wounds to his leg, arm and shoulder.

De Louya had not been told what became of the woman, but army officials visiting him at the hospital said they believed she was the victim who was killed. The woman who died was identified as Sa'ada Aharon of Ramat Gan. She was married with three children and 15 grandchildren.

Neuman, a 50-year-old father of three and a grandfather of one, did not describe himself as an eager recruit. "I'm a coward," he insisted. "But at that moment, I wasn't afraid. I wasn't even sweating. I don't understand it."

He said that while he always screened his passengers, it was only luck that stopped the bomber from entering the back door of the No. 87 bus, which was making its way along a major highway in a suburb just east of here, near Bar Ilan University.

Yossi Sedbon, the Tel Aviv police chief, said the "quick decision" to pin the bomber had saved many lives.

"It must be remembered that an explosive belt might go off from a blow or a certain movement made by the bomber," he said. "This was a very complicated situation, and their actions were extremely brave, appropriate and prevented a very big disaster."

For his part, Neuman called himself an "antihero."

"They are all heroes here, because they are getting on buses," he said, nodding at his fellow drivers. "I did my job."

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