NABLUS, West Bank – A Palestinian teenager approached a crowded West Bank checkpoint wearing a suicide bomb vest Wednesday in what Israel said was a failed attempt to kill soldiers there.
In a tense scene captured in exclusive Associated Press Television News footage, soldiers jumped behind concrete barricades and sent a yellow robot to hand scissors to the 16-year-old boy so he could cut off the vest. They then ordered him to strip to his underwear.
Experts later detonated the bomb, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the incident.
The teenager’s family in Nablus identified him as Hussam Abdo, and his brother, Hosni, said “he has the intelligence of a 12-year-old.”
Although neighbors identified Abdo as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant group, his family said he did not belong to any militant group, but went to demonstrations held by all of them.
The incident was the latest in a series of what Israel says are foiled militant attacks involving young Palestinians.
“No matter how many times Israel learns of the use of children for suicide bombings, it is shocking on each occasion,” said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. “Israelis do not understand how Palestinians are willing to sacrifice their own children in order to kill ours.”
Since the Israeli assassination of Hamas spiritual leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin on Monday, the country has been on high alert, fearing retaliation.
Soldiers at the Hawara checkpoint outside Nablus said they got intelligence that there was an imminent attack planned there, shut down the crossing and began searching people.
Abdo, wearing an oversized red jersey, approached them in a suspicious way, said Lt. Tamir Milrad, an officer at the checkpoint.
“We saw that he had something under his shirt,” he said. The soldiers dove behind concrete barricades, pointed their guns at him and told him to stop.
They ordered him to take off his jersey, revealing a bulky gray bomb vest underneath.
“He told us he didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to blow up,” he said.
The soldiers then sent the robot to hand scissors to the boy so he could cut off the vest.
He cut off part of it and struggled with the rest. “I don’t how to get this off,” he said.
After he dropped the vest, soldiers ordered him to take off his undershirt and jeans, to ensure he had no other weapons on him.
The military said Abdo had been sent to kill soldiers at the crowded checkpoint.
“In addition to the fact that he would have harmed my soldiers, he would have harmed also the Palestinians waiting at the checkpoint and there were 200-300 innocent Palestinians there,” according to the commander of the checkpoint, identified only as Lt. Col. Guy.
Several teenagers have carried out suicide bombings in the past 3 1/2 years of violence and there has been recent concern that militant groups were turning to young attackers to try to frustrate Israeli security checks.
On March 16, Israeli troops stopped an 11-year-old boy allegedly trying to smuggle explosives through the Hawara checkpoint. Israel said militants had given the boy the explosives without his knowledge. Palestinians and the boy disputed this, claiming the bag he was carrying – swiftly blown up by army sappers – contained auto parts.
Last month, Israeli police arrested three boys, aged 12, 13 and 15, who said they were on their way to carry out a shooting attack in the Israeli city of Afula.