Yahya Ayyash

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Yahya Ayyash

Yahya Abd-al-Latif Ayyash (Arabic: يحيى عياش; English: John Servant of the Kind, February 22, 1966[1] – January 5, 1996) was the chief bombmaker of Hamas and the leader of the West Bank battalion of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. In that capacity, he earned the nickname the Engineer ([] error: {{lang-xx}}: no text (help)المهندس, transliterated Al-Muhandis).

Ayyash is credited with advancing the technique of suicide bombing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The bombings he orchestrated caused the deaths of approximately 90 Israelis.[2] A master of disguise, Ayyash was the most wanted man in Israel for three years, and the target of a massive manhunt.[3] Ayyash was assassinated by Israel's Shin Bet in 1996. Shin Bet tricked a trusted friend of Ayyash's into giving him a bomb-laden cell phone. When Ayyash used it, Shin Bet detonated it, killing him instantly.

To Palestinians, he is a celebrated hero[3] who has streets and other locales named in his honor.[4]

Early life

Ayyash was born in Rafat, the eldest of three brothers. As a child, he was very pious, receiving an award from the Islamic Trust[5] for his talent in memorizing the Koran. While a boy, Ayyash showed a talent for electrical and mechanical work—repairing radios, television sets, and the like. After graduating from high school in 1985, he entered Bir Zeit University in 1987. He received a bachelor of science in electrical engineering in 1991.[6]

Described as "well educated, ambitious, and soft-spoken," Ayyash hailed from a relatively affluent family. Married, with one child, Ayyash had planned to study for a master's degree in Jordan, but was denied permission to do so by Israeli authorities. He became bitter and depressed and it was around this time he joined Hamas.[7]

Work for Hamas

Ayyash built the bombs used in a number of Hamas suicide attacks: the Mehola Junction bombing, the Afula Bus massacre, the Hadera central station massacre, the Tel Aviv bus 5 massacre, the Egged bus 36 bombing, the Ramat Gan bus 20 bombing, and the Jerusalem bus 26 bombing. As part of a strategic alliance between Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Ayyash built the bombs used by Islamic Jihad at the Beit Lid massacre.[8]

Because TNT and other high explosives were generally not available in the Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza strip), Ayyash often used a combination of acetone and detergent, both commonly available household products. When combined, they form Acetone peroxide, an explosive known as "Mother of Satan" for its instability.

Ramat Ef'al

Ayyash first came to the attention of Israeli security forces as a result of the failed bombing of Ramat Ef'al. Following a high-speed chase, three would-be Hamas suicide bombers were arrested by police. When police inspected their car, they found it rigged with a bomb—five 12-kilogram (26 lb) gasoline tanks filled to capacity, connected to an acetone peroxide-based detonator. After evacuating the area, sappers used a robot armed with a shotgun to shoot the detonator, in the hopes of defusing it. Instead, it detonated, in a massive explosion. [Police investigators] "were sure that if it had been detonated in a crowded area, it would have killed hundreds".

Israeli investigators learned Ayyash's name during subsequent interrogation of the three arrested suspects.[9]


Following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, the Palestinian Authority began to cooperate more closely with Shin Bet in hunting Ayyash.[10] Shin Bet learned (through means that remain classified to this day) that Ayyash had, on occasion, spent the night in the Gaza City home of Osama Hamad, a childhood friend of his.[11] Shin Bet had previously had dealings with Kamil Hamad, Osama Hamad's uncle.

In October 1995, Shin Bet operatives approached Kamil Hamad. Kamil Hamad demanded money and Israeli identity cards for himself and his wives. After the Shin Bet threatened to inform Hamas of his betrayal, Kamil Hamad agreed to cooperate. Shin Bet agents gave Hamad a cell phone, and told him it was bugged so they could listen in on Ayyash's conversations.[12] They did not tell Hamad that, in addition to eavesdropping devices, it also contained 15 grams of RDX explosive.[13]

Kamil Hamad gave the phone to his nephew Osama, knowing that Ayyash regularly used Osama's phones.[14] At 8:00 AM on January 5, Ayyash's father called him. Ayyash picked it up and talked with his father. Overhead, an Israeli plane picked up their conversation and relayed it to an Israeli command post. When it was confirmed that it was Ayyash on the phone, Shin Bet remotely detonated it, killing Ayyash instantly.[13]The Militant, an international communist newsweekly, reported that "100,000 Palestinians... attended the funeral".[15]

The State of Israel has a policy that it never confirms or denies its participation in selective assassinations. Per this policy, Israel did not confirm or deny its role in killing Ayyash. This led to wild rumors and speculations as to the extent of their involvement.


Following Ayyash's death in February and March 1996, four suicide bombings killed over 60 Israelis. The first of these took place shortly after the end of the 40 day mourning period for Ayyash and the cell that claimed responsibility called itself "Disciples of the martyr Yahya 'Ayyash", stating it was a revenge attack for his assassination. Israeli security services who later interrogated one of the organizers of the attacks said they were carried out by a sub-group of the Qassam Brigades, and that, "the attacks were most probably a direct reaction to the assassination of 'Ayyash [with] no far-reaching political goal."[16]

Veneration in Palestinian society

In April 2010, Israel's Channel 10 reported that the Palestinian Authority named a street in Ramallah after Ayyash. The future presidential compound of the PA is being built on the street. Only a few weeks earlier, a square in Ramallah was named after the Palestinian militant Dalal Mughrabi who directed the 1978 Coastal Road massacre.[17] PA sources said the PA did not intend to name the street after Ayyash. The Ramallah Municipality stated that the street name had been chosen at the end of the 1990s shortly after Ayyash's death.[4]

In response, Israel, the United States and Canada condemned the Palestinian Authority.[18][19][20] The Israeli Prime Minister's Office called it an "outrageous glorification of terrorism by the Palestinian Authority"[18] while a U.S. State Department spokesperson stated "we also strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end."[19]

The PA had previously named streets in Jenin[4] and Beit Lahiya as well as square in Jericho in honor of Ayyash.[21]


  1. ^ Katz, 70
  2. ^ Katz, 256
  3. ^ a b Katz, ix
  4. ^ a b c "The Palestinian Authority still allows and even encourages shaheeds to be turned into role models". Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. April 12, 2010. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  5. ^ Van Tuyll, Frederik. "The emergence of the Islamic trust". Oxford Journals: Trusts and Trustees [1]:
    "The Islamic trust, governed by both the laws of the jurisdiction under which it is written and by Shari'ah law,
    has become a popular financial and devolution planning vehicle for assets held by Muslims."
  6. ^ Katz, 9, 70–71
  7. ^ Rosaler, 2003, p. 36.
  8. ^ Katz 77 (Bet El), 106–109 (Afula and Hadera), 147 (#5 bus), 167 (Biet Lid), 191 (#20 bus), 197 (#26 bus)
  9. ^ Katz, 5–9
  10. ^ Katz, 248
  11. ^ Katz, 249
  12. ^ Katz, 251–252
  13. ^ a b Katz, 260
  14. ^ Katz, 257
  15. ^ Gaza: 100,000 Palestinians Protest Assassination. The Militant. January 22, 1996
  16. ^ Gunning, 2008, p. 210.
  17. ^ Herb Keinon (April 8, 2008). "Israel slams naming of Ramallah street after arch-terrorist". The Jerusalem Post.
  18. ^ a b "Israel condemns the naming of a street in Ramallah after terrorist Yehiye Ayash". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. April 7, 2010. Retrieved April 12, 2010.
  19. ^ a b "Daily Press Briefing". U.S. Department of State. April 7, 2010. Retrieved April 12, 2010.[dead link]
  20. ^ "Canada condemns decision to name PA building after terrorist". YnetNews. AFP. April 9, 2008.
  21. ^ "Abbas' PA Again Honors Terrorist Who Murdered Israelis". Zionist Organization of America. July 14, 2008. Retrieved April 12, 2010.


External links