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The Suicide Message Of A Mother
Who Left Home To Kill

By Justin Huggler

Independent, UK
15 January 2004

In the video she left before she died, Reem al-Riashi said she had dreamt of becoming a "martyr", that she wanted pieces of her body to fly like "deadly shrapnel".

Yesterday they were sponging up her body parts from the floor, indistinguishable from the flesh of the four other people she murdered when she detonated the bomb in her vest.

Riashi was only the second Palestinian mother to become a suicide bomber. She left behind two children: Mohammed, three, and Doha, two. "God gave me two children and I loved them so much," she said in her videotaped suicide message. "Only God knew how much I loved them." Yesterday, her children were motherless.

She died just a day after Tom Hurndall, the unarmed British peace activist who was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier just a few miles south in the Gaza Strip last April, and left in a coma for nine months. Riashi was 22, the same age as Hurndall. He died trying to rescue Palestinian children trapped in the line of fire. Riashi died in order to kill and maim.

Her family disowned her for what she did. "I condemn it," said her brother-in-law. "I support peace." Some said they saw her husband sitting, crying. He did not know what she was going to do. She talked her way past an Israeli security check at a border crossing out of the Gaza Strip, then set off her explosives, killing two Israeli soldiers, a member of the military-style border police, and an Israeli civilian.

Some time before 9.30am - the time that Riashi detonated the bomb wrapped around her - she arrived to queue at the border crossing for Palestinian workers into an industrial complex on the Israeli side of the border. Some 3,000 Palestinians cross to work in the complex every day.

Yesterday, Israelis were describing it as a symbol of co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis. But it is a symbol of another sort for the Palestinians trapped inside Gaza. Desperate for work, they have to queue for hours penned in like sheep in narrow spaces between metal bars to be allowed in to the industrial area.

It was Riashi's first time queuing here. She claimed she had come to apply for an ID card with a magnetic strip, which would allow her to cross every day to work in the complex. She was faking a limp to get past security, and witnesses told reporters one woman had helped Riashi, believing that she was disabled. Riashi thanked the stranger, then warned her to back away.

When she reached the front of the queue, Riashi told the Israeli soldiers manning the security check that she had a metal implant in her leg, which she feared would set off the metal detector, Major Gadi Shamni, the Israeli army brigade commander in Gaza said. Because she was a woman, the soldiers sent for a woman soldier to check her by hand, and asked her to step inside and wait.

Suddenly there was an explosion. Under her clothes, Riashi was wearing a vest packed with explosives, and once inside the room she set them off. The room was full of people: Israeli soldiers and security guards, and Palestinians waiting to cross. Seven were wounded, four of them Palestinians. One Palestinian woman said she saw the woman ahead of her in the queue, who had just gone into the room, with blood pouring from her legs.

In the upmarket neighbourhood of Gaza City where Riashi lived, the mood was sombre. There was the usual tent for mourners but little of the mood of defiance and even celebration that usually comes after a suicide bomber's death.

Riashi's brother emerged from her funeral prayers in the mosque but he would not say anything. At the house where she lived, they did not want to talk either. They were taking the furniture out before the Israeli army got there. They were even unscrewing the metal gate.

The army routinely demolishes the homes of suicide bombers, a practice condemned by international human rights groups as collective punishment because it is the bombers' relatives who suffer. At first, her brother-in-law denied any woman from the family had done such a thing, then he said he condemned it. He would not give his name.

What prompted a mother of two small children to abandon them and carry out such a terrible deed remains mysterious. Gaza is a pressure cooker, where millions of Palestinians are trapped in a small coastal strip, with mass unemployment and poverty. But Riashi's family was well off. She lived in a new four-storey house. There were rumours of a disagreement between her husband and the family, even that he had not been at home for some time.

In the video she left behind, Riashi said she had dreamt of becoming a "martyr" since she was 13. Swathed in a green sash and headband of the militant group Hamas, clutching an American-made assault rifle and smiling, she said: "I always wanted to be the first woman to carry out a martyr attack, where parts of my body can fly all over. That is the only wish I can ask God for." She was not the first Palestinian woman to carry out a suicide bombing, but she was the first to do so for Hamas. The militant group and another faction, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, claimed joint responsibility. Hamas said it had sent a woman suicide bomber for the first time because Israeli security had created "obstacles" for male bombers, and there would be more use of this tactic.

"Resistance will escalate against this enemy until they leave our land," said Hamas' spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. In recent weeks, the talk from Hamas has been of a possible ceasefire. Now it seems the killing is back.