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Barely 16, Arab goes to his death instead of school

Published Sep. 2, 2005

Just 10 days after his 16th birthday, he strapped on an explosives belt and embarked on a two-day odyssey of revenge across the West Bank, sparking an Israeli manhunt.

Cornered by troops on Monday, Sabih Abu Saud detonated the device, killing himself and becoming the youngest of more than 100 suicide bombers who have killed more than 450 Israelis since 2000.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a group loosely linked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, said it recruited Abu Saud. The teenager's father condemned the militants for sending someone so young to his death.

Abu Saud left his home in the West Bank city of Nablus on Sunday morning, telling his parents he was going to school, said his father, Kamal. Instead, the teenager made his way south, trying to enter Israel.

On Sunday evening, when he failed to turn up for iftar, the festive meal that ends the day's fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, his parents began to worry.

By then, Israeli intelligence already knew that a suicide bomber was on the loose, said an army spokeswoman, Maj. Sharon Feingold.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said terrorists sent the teenager south, to get around a security barrier Israel is building to keep West Bank bombers out of Israel. A section north of Nablus has been completed.

Intelligence indicated he was heading for Jerusalem. Roadblocks were beefed up at all entrances to the city, police and military reinforcements were sent in, and all cars heading into the city were checked.

Israeli security officials said Abu Saud apparently saw the heavy security and turned back, spending the night in Ramallah.

The teenager's family became increasingly concerned. Relatives realized that he had taken a picture of his uncle Nasser, a Palestinian militant killed during an Israeli army operation in the West Bank in March 2002.

Family members said the teen had spoken about avenging his uncle's death.

"But he (Abu Saud) was not a member of any of the (terror) groups," the teenager's father said, adding that he tried to strictly supervise the activities of his 11 children.

The father said he contacted the Palestinian security forces and reported his son missing, but by then, the teenager had apparently left Nablus.

By Monday morning, Abu Saud was on the move again, heading toward the Israeli town of Rosh Haayin. The security alert shifted to Israel's central region.

A main West Bank road was closed, Apache helicopters hovered overhead, and more road blocks were set up at the entrance to Israeli towns. Then, Israeli intelligence received a tip: The teenager was in the village of Azzoun, less than a mile from Israel.

There he detonated his explosives belt. One soldier was lightly wounded.

In Nablus, Abu Saud's father received a phone call from relatives who had been contacted by al-Aqsa to say Abu Saud was the bomber.

Kamal Abu Saud blames al-Aqsa for his son's death. "He was just a little boy and those who sent him should have left him alone," he said.

One Palestinian suicide bomber was 16 and several others were in their late teens. But most bombers were in their early 20s.

Now, the Abu Saud family faces the possibility of having its home destroyed _ for a second time.

Israel regularly demolishes the homes of bombers, and in 1986, a year before Sabih Abu Saud was born, Israeli troops destroyed the family home after Nasser, the uncle, killed a suspected Palestinian collaborator with Israel.

"He (Sabih) did not kill any Israelis, so maybe they will leave us alone," his father said.