Sunday Times, June 24 2001
A Palestinian with links to Israeli intelligence unwittingly acted as a driver for the suicide bomber responsible for the devastating explosion that killed 22 people outside a Tel Aviv discotheque, it was claimed last week.
A senior Palestinian intelligence official told The Sunday Times that the driver, Mahmoud Dahshat Rashid Al-Nadi, who made his living ferrying Palestinians from the West Bank to Israel, was an informant for Israeli police intelligence.
Al-Nadi, who is in his twenties, was arrested on June 2, the day after he allegedly dropped off the bomber in front of the entrance of the Dolphi disco on the city's seafront.
Brigadier-General Tawfik Tirawi, the head of the Palestinian General Intelligence in the West Bank, said Al-Nadi did not appear to have been aware of his passenger's deadly mission until it was too late.
Israeli authorities have not announced Al-Nadi's arrest - apparently out of embarrassment at the close links they enjoyed with a man who allegedly facilitated the worst suicide bombing in five years.
Al-Nadi was believed still to be in custody last week, although it was not clear if he had been charged. The militant Islamic group Hamas claimed responsibility for the blast.
"The man is under arrest," said Brigadier-General Ron Kitri, the chief Israeli army spokesman, "but he is not a Shin Bet [Israeli secret service] agent."
Tirawi claimed that Al-Nadi, who lives in the West Bank town of Qalqilia, had been working with Israeli police intelligence since 1999, giving them information about Palestinian activities in the area. In so doing, he said, he was following the example of several other members of his family suspected for decades of links with the Israeli security services.
In return, he had been given a special pass enabling him to travel back and forth between the West Bank and Israel. He also possessed an Israeli identity card.
Tirawi said that on the day of the explosion, Al-Nadi picked up the bomber, Saeed Hotary, 22, who also lived in Qalqilia, in a Subaru car, which had Israeli numberplates. They then crossed into Israel, making use of Al-Nadi's local knowledge to bypass some checkpoints.
When they arrived in Tel Aviv, Hotary, who had explosives strapped to his body, asked to be dropped next to the Dolphi disco, a popular nightspot.
Tirawi claimed that, before getting out, Hotary urged Al-Nadi to move away from the area - which, he said, made him suspect his passenger was a suicide bomber. Al-Nadi, he said, then telephoned his brother Mahdi, an agent of Shin Bet, and told him of his fears.
He was unable to prevent Hotary from blowing himself up and killing 21 people, almost all of them teenage girls of Russian origin, and injuring more than 100 others. Thousands of ball bearings had been mixed into the bomb, causing horrific injuries.
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, called the next day for an "immediate and unconditional ceasefire" in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Hotary's father, Hassan, described the bomber as a devout Muslim, saying: "I am very happy and proud of what my son did and I hope all the men of Palestine and Jordan would do the same."
Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, will meet Tony Blair in London today on his way to a meeting in Washington on Tuesday with President George W Bush. Israeli sources said he would present video and audio evidence that Arafat had ordered attacks on Israeli settlers. Colin Powell, the American secretary of state, is due to set off on a three-day trip to the Middle East to try to halt the violence.
Thirteen people have been killed since the announcement of the ceasefire, including a Palestinian shot dead in the Gaza Strip yesterday.
Sunday Times, June 24 2001
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