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Terrorist foiled by his own wet skin

 
Published March 8, 2002|Updated Sept. 2, 2005

The tall, heavyset young man with a backpack who walked into the cafe on Thursday was wearing a heavy denim jacket on a warm, sunny afternoon. He had his hands in his pockets and was sweating profusely.

He asked for a glass of water, helping himself from a tap near the bar. Then he drifted over to the patio, where dozens of people were having lunch.

But the jacket, the backpack, the hidden hands, the nervous demeanor were tipoffs.

One of the owners, a waiter and a security guard hustled the man out of the cafe, opened his jacket and found wires running over his shoulders into the backpack, which held a large bomb. A detonator switch was in his hand.

In minutes the police arrived and arrested the man, and the bomb was taken away.

"His sweat said it all," said Sagit Amsalem, a waiter who was at the bar. "He was pressured, he wanted water, something wasn't right."

Gabi Altaratz, an owner, had been briefing a guard about security procedures when he also noticed the man standing among the tables. The man looked like an Arab to him.

"I went over and asked him, "What are you doing here?' " Altaratz recalled. "He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Who, me?' and he smiled. His hands were in his pockets. He was sweating terribly. He was a young fellow, and very scared. I knew he was a terrorist."

Joined by a waiter and the security guard, Altaratz hustled the man out of the restaurant. The waiter, Shlomi Ariel, opened the man's jacket and found the wires. He ripped out the wires, took off the backpack and jacket, and found the detonator switch in the man's hand, Altaratz said.

"When Shlomi took off the pack, he told me that it weighed at least 10 kilos," or 22 pounds, he added.

When the police arrived, they handcuffed the would-be suicide bomber on the ground as the staff cleared the customers out through the kitchen.

Soon the street was swarming with police officers, shops were emptied and the area was closed off as a bomb squad examined the backpack. It was later taken away in a bomb-disposal vehicle.

After the police had cleared away the bomb and the would-be bomber, one of the cafe's owners, Gili Adika, was still very jumpy. When a young Israeli woman walked in wearing a backpack, he ordered her sharply to take it off, treating her with such suspicion that she burst into tears.

But there was also relief. Waiters hugged one another, and another owner sipped vodka with friends as he recounted the remarkable turn of events.

Slowly, what could have been a scene of carnage began returning to some normalcy. The tables were cleared of the abandoned dishes and food, and some customers dribbled in, though far fewer than on a regular Thursday afternoon. A rangy security guard was posted at the entrance, patting down some people and ordering a motorcyclist with a leather jacket to open it before he came in.

Across the street, a group of Hasidic Jews set up a table where they offered passers-by a chance to say a few prayers. "We thank God for the miracle that happened here," said one. "The almighty is protecting us all."

But other people on Emek Refaim Street, a bastion of secular Israelis, were not so sure. Any illusion of safety was gone. "It was bound to come here sometime," Itai Neeman said at his bake shop.