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Guide for Bombers Maps His Methods

Mideast: Palestinian prisoner describes scouting out targets and evading Israeli forces as he drove would-be 'martyrs' to their deaths.

June 12, 2002|TRACY WILKINSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — Armed with an Israeli ID card that eased his movement through roadblocks, Ibrahim Sarachne became something of a chauffeur and guide for suicide bombers.

The Palestinian car thief and 33-year-old father of six described in a jailhouse interview Tuesday how he drove or led four aspiring suicide bombers on three separate missions to blow up Israelis. Sarachne also said that he scouted out bombing sites for maximum crowd size and provided maps to the bombers.

Three of his charges were successful and killed five Israelis. Sarachne, who lived in the Dahaisha refugee camp near Bethlehem, seemed to take pride in his ability to skirt large-scale deployments of Israeli security forces and to maneuver in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel.

Sarachne's account--given in Hebrew to a small group of reporters in the presence of agents from Israel's domestic General Security Service, known as the Shin Bet--offered a glimpse into the relatively uncomplicated logistics of the attacks that have so terrorized Israel.

He said he did not have legal counsel. He appeared interested in talking to reporters so that he might be able to work out a deal that would result in his going into exile instead of receiving a long prison sentence, an unlikely prospect. He said he had been treated "OK" during interrogation since his arrest in late May, but the Shin Bet agents cut off further questions about his treatment.

By his admission, Sarachne transported little-trained bombers from Bethlehem to two sites in Jerusalem and a third in the town of Rishon Le Zion, near Tel Aviv.

"From Bethlehem to Rishon, look at the distance," he boasted. "Your closures don't help at all. Rishon, Tel Aviv, Haifa--it's not a problem. No one will think twice."

Shin Bet agents likewise said they were keen to demonstrate the ease with which an Israeli ID permitted Sarachne to traverse the area, despite rigorous restrictions, military barricades and closures. Thousands of Palestinians who reside in Jerusalem or have parents living there have such IDs; Sarachne holds one by virtue of his father's residency in Jerusalem.

Sarachne was seated on a chair in a spartan room in Jerusalem's main police headquarters, known as the Russian Compound. Wiry and balding, he wore sneakers without laces and frequently crossed his arms over his chest. He professed to not be particularly political or religious.

Several weeks after Sarachne got out of an Israeli jail where he had been serving time for attempted car theft, he said, he was approached by a militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militia affiliated with Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. The gunman, whom he identified as Mohammed Iyad Said, recruited Sarachne to help find targets and deliver bombers to them.

On March 29, Sarachne said, he drove his red Toyota pickup with yellow Israeli plates to a hilly road just outside Bethlehem. There he retrieved Hayat Akhras, 18, then drove her to a suburban Jerusalem supermarket where Israelis were shopping ahead of the Jewish Sabbath. She killed herself, an Israeli woman her age and a security guard.

On the way to the supermarket, a calm Akhras rode with the bomb in a shoulder bag at her feet, Sarachne said. They made chitchat until about five minutes before arriving. " 'If you want to back out,' " he recalled telling her, " 'I'll throw that bomb out.' But she said no.... She wasn't afraid. She said she wanted to kill people.... She said she was ready to die."

He dropped her off and, about five minutes later, heard the sirens of ambulances and police cars. He turned on Israeli Army Radio and learned of the blast.

"I was happy that she had succeeded," he said.

Three days later, and again on Said's instructions, Sarachne was leading a two-car convoy through Arab villages and into Jerusalem. The bomber was riding in the second car. Sarachne described him as a youth in his late teens from the Dahaisha camp who had made a farewell video and wanted to become a martyr.

They came upon a surprise checkpoint at downtown Jerusalem's Haneviim Street. Sarachne was showing his ID to a policewoman when the bomber, apparently realizing he would be caught, sent his driver away and blew himself up. One policeman was killed.

Sarachne had the presence of mind--and criminal guile, say his captors--to demand his ID back from the policewoman even amid the chaos of the explosion.

On May 22, Sarachne took his wife and 18-month-old daughter along on his next mission. They drove in one car and were followed by a pair of suicide bombers--a 20-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy--in a second stolen vehicle. They used hand-held radios to communicate between the cars, speaking in a kind of code.

The destination was Rishon Le Zion, where Sarachne had scouted a target two days earlier: a crowded pedestrian mall "where you can kill a lot of people."

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