The promise of 70 virgins in paradise and the equivalent of about $20 was all it took to convince a Palestinian teenager to turn himself into a suicide bomber and head for an Israeli checkpoint in the West Bank.
As Israeli soldiers crouched behind barriers at the Hawara checkpoint on Wednesday, a seemingly dazed, yet eerily composed Hussam Abdu raised his hands, revealing a vest of explosives strapped to his body.
It was an amazing scene, repeatedly played on the international news networks just days after Israeli missile strikes killed Hamas founder Sheik Ahmed Yassin in Gaza. Hamas had vowed retaliation and everyone — from the Israeli soldiers manning checkpoints to officials at military command centers — was on high alert.
Enter Abdu, the "boy bomber," who was stopped while walking toward the Hawara checkpoint control tower in what seemed like an unusually bulky red sweater and jeans. With Israeli soldiers issuing commands from a distance, the stocky Palestinian lad was made to strip off his sweater.
And there, in the bright March sunlight, under the full gaze of a camera crew, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian pedestrians waiting to cross the checkpoint, a heavy vest-like garment packed with explosives, estimated at 15 to 20 pounds, was revealed to the crowd.
The next few minutes were like an action film in slow motion. The boy froze, hands on his head, as the soldiers barked commands from afar. The military sent a small yellow robot whirring toward Abdu, to bring him scissors to cut off the vest.
But the weight of the vest and the awkward positioning made it difficult for him to snip away the deadly vest.
By now the boy, who gave his age as 14 although his family says he is 16, was visibly beginning to panic. He called for help, pleading that he did not want to blow himself up. But the soldiers remained in their positions as the crowd watched.
Abdu was then ordered to take off the vest and for some heart-stopping seconds, he struggled to rid himself of the explosives-packed garment and dropped it on the road. The boy was then ordered him to strip to his underwear and kneel on concrete checkpoint floor as soldiers thoroughly searched him. He was then seized by the soldiers and the explosives were later detonated in a controlled explosion.
A War of Images
In the high-stakes media war that goes on behind the scenes in the Middle East, the amazing scene of the young suicide bomber willing to kill himself to kill others was immediately seized by the Israeli officials.
Hours after his apprehension, Abdu was presented to international reporters at the Hawara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus although he was not allowed to speak to foreign journalists.
More than three years after footage of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy in his father's arms being shot by Israeli soldiers shocked the international community, Wednesday's disturbing images were splashed across the media today.
Israeli papers this morning bore headlines such as: "I wanted virgins in paradise" and "I wanted to become a man,'' plastered across pictures of Abdu with his explosives vest as news networks replayed the horrifying footage.
Israeli officials condemned the use of Palestinian children for suicide missions. "How is it possible that parents could allow their children to be sacrificed in order to kill the children of others," said Dore Gold, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, warning that the latest incident was a disturbing new face of terrorism.
Abdu's family, however, said the boy had developmental problems and criticized the way the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had paraded the boy before international reporters. In the deadly, acrimonious Mideast struggle, both sides, it seems, have understood the importance of images to make their points. And they have a captive world audience.