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Teachers’ College Recruiting Ground For Suicide Bombers

March 5, 1996

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) _ At least three of the four recent suicide bombings in Israel were organized by students at a teachers’ college in the city of Ramallah, Palestinian police said Tuesday.

And one of the bombers _ a man said to have frequently spoken of his desire to give his life for the militant Palestinian cause _ was himself a student at the Ramallah Teachers’ Training College.

Raed Shaghnoubi got his wish Sunday when he blew himself up on a Jerusalem city bus during morning rush hour, killing himself and 18 others.

Police raided the college the same day, arresting dozens of students. Twenty-five were still in custody Tuesday, including their alleged leader, Mohammed Abu Wardeh, said Palestinian police Col. Hussein Sheik.

Abu Wardeh, 21, is a second-year student at the U.N.-run college and a member of Izzedine al Qassam, the military wing of the Muslim militant group Hamas, Sheik said.

Sheik said Abu Wardeh recruited not only Shaghnoubi, but also the bombers in two previous suicide bombings _ his cousin, Majdi Abu Wardeh from the West Bank refugee camp of Al Fawar, and Majdi’s neighbor, Ibrahim Sarahneh.

Reporters were barred from the college Tuesday, and local U.N. officials refused comment on the police allegations. Many schools in Palestinian areas are run by the United Nations.

Palestinian security sources said Mohammed Abu Wardeh received his instructions via coded messages from Hamas leaders abroad, and Israel TV said his handlers were based in Damascus, Syria.

Sheik would not say how Abu Wardeh himself was recruited and why he decided to use suicide bombings against Israel.

But relatives of Shaghnoubi, 20, a second-year student, said he had sought revenge ever since Israeli undercover troops shot his older brother, Mohammed, in the legs four years ago.

Mohammed Shaghnoubi was an activist in the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising. He said his younger brother, along with other children from the West Bank village of Burka, confronted Israeli soldiers with stones during the uprising.

In his late teens, Shaghnoubi began talking about becoming a suicide bomber, his brother said. ``If I have a chance to do it, I will,″ Shaghnoubi would tell anyone willing to listen.

Early Tuesday, troops raided Burka, herding the village men into the main square for questioning and then sealing the two-room Shaghnoubi house. When the soldiers arrived with welding irons, the family already had run to a nearby refugee camp, Askar, leaving its belongings behind.

A day earlier, soldiers had welded shut the homes of Majdi Abu Wardeh, 19, and Sarahneh, 26. Sealing homes until they could be demolished was a common punishment and deterrent used by Israel during the uprising.

Majdi Abu Wardeh blew himself up Feb. 25 in Jerusalem in the first of the four attacks. All he left behind was a passport photograph of himself, with the words, ``Farewell, Izzedine al Qassam″ scribbled on the back.

Sarahneh blew himself up at a hitchhiking post in the coastal city of Ashkelon the same day. The bomber in Monday’s attack in Tel Aviv has not yet been identified but Palestinian police were not ruling out a link to the college.

Throughout his life, Majdi Abu Wardeh had never been anywhere except in the camp and the nearby town of Hebron, relatives said. They said he was deeply religious, stayed out of trouble during the uprising and never was arrested.

Sarahneh, who lived in another part of the camp, had been arrested by Israeli troops three times. In December 1992, he was among more than 400 Muslim militants rounded up by Israel for deportation to Lebanon, but in the end was jailed instead.

At the Ramallah teachers’ college, students had mixed feelings Tuesday about the bombers in their midst.

Some said the members of the secret cell were role models. ``I consider them heroes. Anyone who does what they did is a freedom fighter,″ said a student, Shaker, who was escorted back into the school compound by a college guard before he could give his last name to reporters.

But sophomore Samir Ghazawi, who was rounded up in Sunday night’s raid and later released, said the conspirators endangered his own future.

``If they close the college, it is a disaster for me,″ said Ghazawi, who is from the Gaza Strip but cannot return because of Israeli travel restrictions. ``I will hate the suicide bombers.″

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