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Suicide attacker injures 11 Israelis

Akram Alkam spent the last week of his life reading the biography of a notorious Hamas bombmaker, who masterminded suicide attacks that killed scores of Israelis.

On Tuesday morning, the 22-year-old Palestinian furniture salesman decided to follow in his hero's footsteps.

Alkam told his mother by mobile phone that he was in his car on his way to carry out a suicide attack in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. He then rammed his car into hitchhiking Israeli soldiers at a busy junction, injuring 11 soldiers before being shot to death by Israeli police.

"Damn the day he laid hands on that book!" said Alkam's mother, Fadwa, at the family's West Bank home that was filled with wailing mourners hours after the attack.

That drew a quick rebuke from her mother-in-law, Naimeh: "Don't say that," she said sternly. "Your son died a martyr."

The book that apparently inspired the attack was a biography of Yehiyeh Ayyash, nicknamed "The Engineer" for his prowess in preparing explosives and masterminding seven suicide bombing attacks. Ayyash was assassinated in 1996 in the Gaza Strip when he answered a call on his explosives-rigged mobile phone _ an operation widely attributed to Israel.

In the past, militant groups have carried out suicide attacks and drive-by shootings in an attempt to derail the implementation of peace accords between Israel and the Palestinians. But it appeared Alkam acted alone; no group has claimed responsibility for orchestrating the attack.

The attack did not derail Israeli-Palestinian peace talks but is a reminder it takes only a lone assailant to throw the fragile negotiations off track.

Israel and the Palestinians were at odds over the implementation of a U.S.-brokered peace pact. But on Tuesday, Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat agreed to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's request to push back the timetable for Israel withdrawing its troops from the West Bank until October.

Arafat also demanded that Israel then follow the timetable laid out in the pact, the Associated Press reported, citing a Palestinian official whom it did not name. Arafat told Barak in a letter that all obligations under the Wye River accord should be implemented fully by November, the official said.

Barak, a former army chief of staff who takes a hard line on security, called the suicide attack "cowardly" and said it strengthened his resolve to fight terrorism. He called on Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority to help.

The Palestinian Authority said it was investigating the attack, but criticized Israeli police and troops for opening fire too quickly on the driver. The army said later in a statement the soldiers had acted correctly.

Alkam's mother said that her son had no political affiliation but that during the intifada, or the Palestinian uprising against Israel, he _ like many Palestinian youngsters _ had thrown stones at Israeli troops.

Late Tuesday, Israeli media quoted the family as disclaiming any knowledge Alkam was carrying out an attack. Israeli authorities sometimes demolish the homes of suicide bombers as a deterrent to attackers, especially if they believe the family knew of the attacker's plans or of an affiliation with a radical group.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Alkam's mother tearfully recounted her final brief telephone conversation with her son as he approached the junction.

"I begged him not to do it," she said. "But he wouldn't listen." Her husband and another son rushed to the junction, but they arrived too late. Instead of preventing the attack, they had to identify Alkam's bullet-riddled body.

Alkam's red Fiat first rammed two Israeli women soldiers near a hitchhiking post at Nachshon Junction, 30 miles west of Jerusalem.

An army helicopter was called in to chase the car, but Alkam made a U-turn, returned to the junction and hit another group of soldiers, said an army spokesman, Lt. Col. Sharon Grinker. This time, the troops fired on the car and it slammed into a cement truck.

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