Monday, February 04, 2008

A coffee before dying: last moments of a suicide bomber in Israel

Revital Biton is still shaking at the memory. It was into her shop in the Israeli desert town of Dimona that one of two bombers walked on Monday before setting off a blast that killed a woman.

"The bomber bought a coffee at my shop... He didn't sit down, he left immediately... The explosion occurred 10 minutes afterwards," says the still pale owner of "World Pizza."

"He took his coffee to go in a plastic cup. He had on a red vest, long hair and a beard," adds waitress Marina Shaban.

One hundred metres away from the scene of the blast, the pizza shop was spared the shattered glass, upturned chairs and tables and bloodstains of the restaurant outside which the suicide bomber detonated his device.

Police sappers work nearby to defuse an unexploded suicide belt found in the open-air shopping mall after the deadly blast that also wounded at least 11 other people.

Two bombers carried out the attack, with one killed in the blast and the second shot by police before he could set off his explosives.

Fear now hangs over the people of this desert town near the site of Israel's top secret nuclear reactor. They have never before experienced a suicide bombing.

"This is the first time this has happened in Dimona," says Meir Cohen, the mayor of the town with a 40,000-strong population.

The terrified residents are certain they know how the two bombers got into Israel to carry out the first suicide attack inside the Jewish state in a year.

The attackers must have crossed into Israel through Egypt's Sinai desert, a mere 80 kilometres (50 miles) away, following a nearly two-week breach in the border between the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and Egypt, they say.

"I'm sure this happened because of the opening of the Gaza border," Cohen says. "A lot of Palestinians... entered the Sinai and the border between the Sinai and us is open."

Tami Mamane, 44, who lives in a building just in front of the open-air mall, echoes the sentiment.

"This has never happened in Dimona" before, she says. "This is a very quiet city. We are afraid now because we are close to the border. We are afraid they will be other attacks."

Moshe Malke, a 36-year-old lawyer, was inside his office at the mall when he heard the blast.

"I ran to see what had happened," he says. "I saw a head, legs, internal organs of a man. I started to help the wounded. When I opened the coat of one injured man I saw the suicide belt. His eyes were still blinking. I shouted for everyone to get away. I thought he was about to explode."

"If the border between Gaza and Egypt stays open this is the horrible consequence," he adds.


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