By Jack Kelly (who was 30 yards away when the bomb detonated),
August 16, 2001
JERUSALEM – It was a scene out of a war movie. The blast was so powerful it
blew out the front of the Sbarro pizza restaurant on Jaffa Street. It knocked
down people up to 30 yards away and sent flesh onto second-story balconies
on the next block. Traumatized women, some with nails from the bomb
embedded in their faces, arms and chests, huddled on the street corner and
cried. Men stood motionless in shock. Children, their faces burned, walked
around screaming, “Mom, mom, where are you?”
Blood splattered the walls and dripped onto sidewalks.
Thursday’s suicide bombing, which killed at least 15 people and injured nearly
90, struck downtown Jerusalem at the busiest time of the day – as the lunch
hour was ending, at 2 p.m. I was walking near the restaurant when the bomber
The attack was the deadliest in Israel since the suicide bombing June 1 of a Tel
Aviv disco that claimed the lives of 21 young Israelis. With so many people
critically injured, it threatens to become the most deadly attack since violence
erupted here late September.
Officials warned that the death toll could rise. At least 10 people were in
critical condition, including a 4-month-old child.
An entire family – a couple and their three children – were killed, relatives said.
The family had lived in a settlement in the West Bank.
Two foreign tourists were among the dead, Israeli public radio reported. The
radio identified them as Judith Greenbaum, 31, from New Jersey and Giora
Balach, 60, from Brazil.
Hanna Tova Nachemberg, 31, of Riverdale, N.Y., was critically wounded
with shrapnel in her chest, according to Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew
Institute of Riverdale.
Three French tourists also were injured.
“The bomber knew what he was doing,” Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said as
he helped teams of Orthodox rabbis gather pieces of flesh from the street.
Under Jewish law, people’s bodies must be placed in their graves whole.
“This is a massacre,” Olmert said.
The militant Muslim group Islamic Jihad, in a telephone interview with USA
TODAY, claimed responsibility for the attack. It identified the suicide bomber as
Hussein Omar Abu Naaseh, 23, of the West Bank town of Jenin.
“We want this successful operation to prove to the terrorist (Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel) Sharon that we can, and we will, continue to get him and his
fellow pigs and monkeys where it hurts the most,” senior Islamic Jihad official
Abdallah al-Shami said.
Sharon convened an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet immediately
after the bombing and vowed to retaliate against militant Muslim leaders. Israel
has been targeting Palestinian extremists and assassinating them. It says they
direct the terrorism.
Soon after the bombing, Palestinian Television reported that Israeli tanks were
shelling homes in Gaza.
Later in the day, Israeli soldiers took over a Palestinian security building
in Abu Dis, which is next to Jerusalem.
The Israeli military sealed the entire West Bank and was moving troops
into Jenin, the suicide bomber’s hometown.
Palestinian flag comes down
The Israelis also closed nine Palestinian Authority offices in East Jerusalem,
including Orient House, the unofficial Palestinian foreign ministry. Seven
Palestinian officials were brought out of Orient House early today and taken into
custody by the Israeli military. Soldiers took down the Palestinian flag and
replaced it with the Israeli flag.
Also, Israeli F-16 warplanes fired missiles at a Palestinian police building near
Ramallah in the West Bank early today, Palestinians said. There were no
casualties, but the building was destroyed. It was the first F-16 attack since
May. Until now, Israel had confined its retaliation for Palestinian attacks to tank
and helicopter strikes on Palestinian police positions.
“We hold (Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser) Arafat responsible for this
madness,” Israeli government spokesman Danny Naveh said. “He has given the
green light to Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the other terrorists.”
But Palestinian Authority spokesman Yasser Abed Rabbo, who denounced the
bombing, blamed Sharon for carrying out “Mafia-style” assassinations of nearly
60 militant Muslim leaders since September. “Sharon has inflamed the
Palestinian people with his terrorist, gangland-style assassinations,” Rabbo said.
The popular Sbarro restaurant, like other shops and eating places along Jaffa
Street, was packed at lunchtime, so I and an Israeli official I was scheduled to
interview decided not to eat there.
Several customers, including three mothers and their infants in strollers, stood
outside on the sidewalk, eating their pizza and plates of spaghetti. Dozens of
pedestrians pushed their way around the women or were forced to walk along
the busy street next to the crowded buses.
Among those I could see fighting their way into the restaurant was a young
man, wearing a white T-shirt and dark sport jacket. A black pouch, similar to a
small camera case, was attached to his waist. He appeared to be Palestinian.
Once inside, he stared at the fluorescent menu board and at the red, green and
white tiles, as if to survey his surroundings, one of the restaurant workers said
later. He then asked the restaurant clerk how long he would have to wait for a
plate of take-out spaghetti. As the clerk answered, witnesses said, the man
reached inside his pouch and calmly detonated what turned out to be a bomb.
The explosion was deafening and sent out a burst of heat that could be felt far
down the street. It blew out windows and threw tables and chairs into the air.
Victims’ arms and legs rained onto the street.
Three men who had been eating pizza inside were catapulted out on the chairs
they had been sitting on. When they hit the ground, their heads separated from
their bodies and rolled down the street.
Dozens of men, women and children, their bodies punctured by nails
from the bomb, began dropping in pain. One woman had six nails in her neck.
Another had a nail in her left eye.
Two men, one with a 6-inch piece of glass in his right temple, the other with
glass shards in his calf, fell to the ground bleeding. A passerby tried to comfort
them but broke down crying. As he walked away, he tripped on a decapitated
body and fell.
Next to them, a man groaned in pain. “Help me, please. I’m dying,” he said. His
legs had been blown off. Blood poured from his torso. An Israeli soldier, upon
seeing him, gasped “Oh, God,” dropped his gun and vomited. The man bled to
death less than a minute later.
‘There could be another bomb!’
Police officers began arriving, yelling into their handheld walkie-talkies and
shouting instructions for bystanders to leave. “There could be another bomb!
There could be another bomb!” a police officer yelled into a megaphone. He
began to cordon off the area.
Few could hear him over the screams of the injured, the sirens of approaching
ambulances and the shrill blare of dozens of car alarms set off by the explosion.
Suddenly, a Palestinian man ran up to an injured Israeli as if to help. An Israeli
soldier butted the Palestinian in the chest with his rifle, knocking him to the
“I’m a nurse! I’m a nurse,” the Palestinian yelled. As he got up, another
Israeli soldier threw him against a wall, grabbed him by the neck and placed him
under arrest. Two other soldiers hauled him off, hitting him in the head as they
“Terrorist!” a nearby police officer yelled, pointing at the man.
Meanwhile, yards away, a little girl about 3 years old, her face covered with
glass, walked among the bodies, calling out her mother’s name. Seconds later,
she found her. The girl told her mother to get up. But the mother, apparently
already dead, didn’t respond. The girl, hysterical and still unaware of what had
happened, was led away by an Israeli policewoman.
Inside the blackened shell of the restaurant, a policeman pointed to what he
said was the top of the head of the suicide bomber, which was lying on the
floor. The nose and mouth were missing. The teeth appeared to be lying
“You’ve killed us all, you bastard,” the officer said,
pointing to the head.
He then tried to kick the head, but was stopped by another officer. The
man spat at the head as he was led away.
Dozens of ambulances arrived over the next thirty minutes to cart off the dead
and injured as relatives begin arriving. Rabbis, with white gloves, raced around
the street picking up pieces of flesh. One rabbi found a small hand splattered
against a white Subaru parked outside the restaurant.
“It’s of a girl,” Rabbi Moshe Aaron said. “She was probably 5 or 6, the same
age as my daughter.” He gently put it into a bag.
“I wish I could say there won’t be anything like this tragedy again,”
Aaron said. “But it’s just a matter of time until another bomber kills more of us.
It’ll be like this until the end of time.”