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A 14-year-old Palestinian boy was detained yesterday near Nablus, carrying an explosive belt. He is the youngest suicide bomber ever to be caught.

The incident took place at around 4 yesterday afternoon, at the Israel Defense Forces Hawara checkpoint, south of the city. The boy, Hussam Bilal Abdu, a resident of Nablus, approached the roadblock from the direction of the city. Soldiers from the paratroops, who had received intelligence information about the threat of a suicide bomber from Nablus, were carrying out especially thorough examinations.

The boy was standing in line with other Palestinians, some 20 meters from the spot where they are checked by the soldiers. The soldiers noticed him suddenly pushing out of line and spotted a suspicious bulge under his clothes. They ordered him to stop. The soldiers took cover behind concrete barricades, pointed their guns at him, and told him to remove his shirt. The explosives belt was then visible.

Many of the Palestinians waiting in line meanwhile fled the scene. Others were told by the soldiers to disperse. A police remote-controlled robot was brought in, carrying large scissors. The soldiers then gave the boy instructions how to cut the belt off his body, but he had great difficulty doing this. He shouted to the soldiers that he was afraid he would die.

IDF sappers then safely detonated the explosives which weighed eight kilos and contained numerous nails.

Abdu, who was taken for questioning, said that he received NIS 100 to carry out a suicide attack and that the money was supposed to go to his mother. The IDF believes he was meant to detonate the belt near the soldiers or close to the nearby army base.

This is the third attempted suicide bombing to be prevented at checkpoints south of Nablus in the past 10 days. The armed wing of the Fatah in Nablus last week placed an explosive belt in the cart of a 10-year-old boy, unbeknownst to him. In the case of Abdu, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades claimed responsibility and the boy was apparently a willing participant.

Abdu told the soldiers he had dreamt of meeting 70 virgins in heaven, as his dispatchers had promised him, and said he had been tempted by the promise of sexual relations with the virgins.

He said he had been bullied at school for his poor academic performance and that he had wanted "to be a hero."

The family of the boy said he was mentally slow. "He doesn't know anything," his brother, Hosni, said. "He has the brain of a 12-year-old."

His mother, Tamam, told Haaretz yesterday evening that her son had "been exploited and manipulated." She said she could not understand how adults could do this. Her son had left the house in the morning and told her he was going to school, she said, "but afterwards I heard from other pupils he did not come and they didn't know where he disappeared." She said she had no idea with whom he had spent the morning.

"Those who persuaded him to do this must be punished because this is against our beliefs, and we are responsible for him," she said.

Tamam said she did not believe her son was motivated by money since the family was middle class and he always had enough money in his pocket. The boy's father owns a large and successful grocery store and several cosmetic businesses and the family is considered well-off. The father is not known to be politically active but Hussam has taken part in demonstrations organized by the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The local Palestinian media refrained from reporting the incident yesterday but many residents of Nablus expressed anger that a minor had been exploited.

Dr Said Zidani, director of the Palestinian Organization for Human Rights in Ramallah said last night: "I don't know all the details but I am not surprised that children copy the adults who do such deeds. At all events, as a minor, the boy is not responsible. My personal position is clear: I'm against hurting Israeli or Palestinian civilians and against suicide bombers, adult or minor. But this is a crazy case and anyone who sends a child to carry out a bombing must be punished and the media, schools and organizations must condemn this vehemently."