AYYASH, YAHYA (1966–1996)
aka the Engineer .
Palestinian Yahya Ayyash, a notorious Hamas commander, is said to have been as greatly loved by Palestinians as he was hated by Israelis. Ayyash achieved a near-mythical status as a man who always escaped detection by Israel’s intelligence service. He is said to have masterminded multiple suicide attacks in Israel that killed nearly 70 civilians and injured more than 300. Ayyash was assassinated on January 5, 1996, by a booby-trapped cellular phone allegedly planted by Shin Bet, Israel’s security service. Nearly 100,000 people, about 11 percent of Gaza’s population, marched at Ayyash’s funeral. Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat gave him a 21-gun salute.
The son of a farmer, Ayyash was born in Rafat, a village in the West Bank highlands. He studied electrical engineering and chemistry at the Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, Saudi Arabia. In the first large attack allegedly planned by Ayyash, in 1994 a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up near a bus in Afula, Israel, killing eight people. Five more attacks followed, but Ayyash continued to escape detection for more than three years. Linked to 11 suicide bombings, he became known as “the Engineer” for his skill in building bombs and planning attacks. Press accounts before his assassination reported that he earned the name “the man with seven souls” in the Palestinian territories after escaping death many times. He is even said to have posed as a Jewish settler in Israeli territory while escaping from Nablus in the West Bank to Gaza.
In late December 1995, Hamas promised Arafat and the Palestinian Authority that it would cease military operations. At that time, Ayyash was staying in Beit Lahiya in the Gaza Strip with Osama Hamad, an old friend and college roommate. Press accounts of Ayyash’s murder indicate that Hamad worked for his uncle Kamal Hamad, a contractor and suspected Shin Bet informer with close ties to the former Israeli military government. Kamal Hamad had lent his nephew a mobile phone months before the attack, saying that he wanted to be able to reach him easily.
On January 4, 1996, Kamal Hamad asked for the phone, when he returned it, he asked his nephew to leave the phone turned on at all times. The next morning around 9:00, Ayyash’s father called his son—first on the house’s standard phone line and then, as the call would not go through, on the cell phone. Osama Hamad answered the cell phone and passed it to Ayyash. Hamad later said he walked away to give his friend more privacy; he heard an explosion and looked back to see smoke. The blast had decapitated Ayyash.
Following Ayyash’s assassination, rumors circulated that he had, in fact, escaped. A loyal follower, the rumors suggested, had answered the cell phone in his place and died for his leader.
In the two months following Ayyash’s death, suicide bombings instigated by Hamas in retaliation for his murder killed more than 40 people. The bombers targeted buses and bus stops in Jerusalem and Ashkelon.
The international press widely reported that Kamal Hamad, who fled Gaza after the bombing, believed that the phone he gave to his nephew was rigged with a listening device, not explosives. Kamal Hamad subsequently sued Shin Bet for financial losses and the threat to his own life for playing a role in the murder.
Further Reading
Brown, Derek. “A War of the Shadows; Obituary: Yahya Ayyash.” The Guardian (London), January 8, 1996, 11.
Cockburn, Patrick. “How the Phone Bomb Was Set Up.” The Independent (London), January 9, 1996, 10.
Greenberg, Joel. “Slaying Blended Technology and Guile.” New York Times, January 10, 1996, A3.
Roy, Sara. “The Reason for Rage in Gaza.” Christian Science Monitor, January 12, 1996, 20. [1]

See also: MOSSAD
[1] Kushner Harvey W. Hamas. In encyclopedia Of Terrorism. Sage Publications, Inc. London, 2003.


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