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Elusive Bombing Mastermind Killed Dozens, Bedeviled Peace Process

January 5, 1996

JERUSALEM (AP) _ Yehiya Ayyash’s bomb-making skills killed scores of Israelis and made the elusive Palestinian extremist known as the ``Engineer″ number one on Israel’s most-wanted list.

A leading member of the Islamic fundamentalist Hamas organization, Ayyash is believed to have masterminded at least seven suicide bombings in an effort to wreck the Israel-PLO peace agreement signed in September 1993.

The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, considered his capture, dead or alive, its top priority.

Born in the West Bank village of Rafat, Ayyash, 30, earned an electrical engineering degree from Bir Zeit University north of Jerusalem, a focal point of resistance against Israeli occupation. It was shut by Israel for most of the 1987-1993 Palestinian uprising.

Ayyash reportedly learned to make car bombs in Iran, and became involved with Hamas upon his return four years ago.

Palestinians say he developed a small following teaching how to make bombs from a variety of materials. He recruited Palestinian militants willing to die in suicide bomb attacks on Israelis, usually in or near buses.

His 61-year-mother, Ayshaeh Ayyash, has said her son went underground in 1992 after refusing to appear before Israeli security agents for questioning.

The first attack attributed to Ayyash was a bus bombing in the northern Israeli town of Afula on April 6, 1994, which killed nine Israelis. In all, he is suspected of masterminding bombings that claimed at least 55 Israeli lives.

The bombing campaign shattered confidence in the peace process and forced delays in negotiations that threatened to halt peacemaking at several points.

Ayyash became a folk hero among Palestinians for his ability to elude capture. He was said to have disguised himself as a Jewish settler at times to elude capture. Israeli newspaper photos showed him clean-shaven and with a shaggy dark beard.

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