suicide bomber's helper makes admission

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    Aug. 5, 2003
    Suicide bomber's helper admits it wasn't in response to Rantisi hit

    The Jerusalem Arab accomplice of the Hamas suicide bomber who blew up a No. 14A bus in June has confessed that the attack was not connected with the botched assassination attempt on Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi the day before, police said Monday.

    The man revealed that the bombing had been carefully planned a month in advance, despite Hamas claims that it was in retaliation for the failed IAF missile strike on Rantisi.

    Police released details of the arrest six weeks ago of two Jerusalem Arabs suspected of transporting and aiding the Palestinians who carried out the two most recent Jerusalem bus bombings, which claimed 24 lives between them.

    Seventeen people were killed in the June 11 bombing on bus No. 14A on Jaffa Road, while seven were killed in the May 18 attack on bus No. 6 in French Hill. Both bombings were carried out by Hamas.

    During their interrogations, both suspects confessed, police said Monday.

    The first accomplice to be caught, identified by police as Samir Eyeh Samia Ahmed Atrash, was arrested on June 14 on suspicion that he assisted the French Hill bomber and dropped him off at the site of the attack. Atrash, 25, originally from Hebron, had acquired a Jerusalem identity card when he moved to the Shuafat refugee camp under the family reunification program.

    Two days later, Omar Salah Muhammad Sharif was apprehended on suspicion that he aided the bomber who targeted the No. 14A bus.

    Sharif, 19, a resident of Beit Hanina, worked as a janitor at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus. He is a relative of the Hamas leader in Hebron, Abdullah Kawasmeh, who was considered to be the cell's mastermind. Kawasmeh was tracked down and killed by the IDF on June 21.

    During his interrogation, Atrash told security officials that the weekend of the French Hill attack, Kawasmeh was already planning the next bombing in Jerusalem, and had even chosen the date: June 11.

    During a mid-May meeting, Kawasmeh ordered Sharif to meet the future bomber near the Kalandia checkpoint north of Jerusalem and to prepare haredi garb for him.

    In fact, both suicide bombers were disguised as haredim, as was a bomber from the same cell who murdered an Israeli couple in Hebron on May 17.

    The arrangements between Kawasmeh and Sharif were made nearly a month before the June 11 attack. This belies reports made at the time in the foreign press, quoting Hamas officials, that the bombing was in retaliation for the attempted assassination of Rantisi in Gaza City on June 10.

    As planned, Sharif picked up the bomber on the afternoon of June 11 and drove him to the garage of the Jerusalem International Convention Center, where he provided him with haredi garb. He also helped the bomber check that the belt of explosives he wore was in proper working order. He then briefed him on which bus to target, and where police checkpoints were located.

    Security officials also noted that the two accomplices had revealed that the Hamas cell head also requested that they gather information on the movements of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Shas MK Shlomo Benizri to aid plans to assassinate them. One of the two even hoped to carry out a mass poisoning at a Beit Shemesh banquet hall where he worked part-time.

    The role of Jerusalem Arabs, security officials said, highlights the dangerous precedent set by the members of an east Jerusalem-based Hamas cell that was responsible for a string of attacks, including last year's bombings at a Hebrew University cafeteria and the Moment Cafe.

    In both instances, the Jerusalem Arabs used their freedom of movement to facilitate their plans and their attacks.

    The members of that cell have since been sentenced to multiple life terms.

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