He is only 15, an age at which most boys are out playing soccer after school or studying for exams. But according to charges filed in an Israeli military court yesterday, Nasser Awartani has spent the past year busying himself with more deadly matters.
The Nablus student was charged in an Israeli military court yesterday with recruiting teenagers to become suicide bombers for militant groups, the first time such charges have been levelled against a Palestinian youth.
Israel's military court in the northern West Bank charged Nasser with 12 counts, including attempted murder and membership in a militant group. Although hundreds of Israelis have been killed in suicide attacks, none of the Israeli deaths were attributed to Nasser in the indictment.
An Israeli army spokesman alleged that Nasser was involved in "recruiting, preparing and dispatching young suicide bombers in order to carry out terrorist attacks." His job involved ferrying potential bombers to initial meetings with militants and helping them get ready for attacks.
One of his alleged recruits was Hussam Abdo, the 16-year-old whose picture was flashed around the world as he struggled to remove a suicide bomb at an Israeli checkpoint in March.
Another of the suicide bombers Nasser allegedly recruited was 16-year-old Sabi Abu Saud, who blew himself up at an army checkpoint near Tulkarm last November, injuring several soldiers.
Nasser's mother, Ihlas, said her son could not be guilty because he spent all his time at home. "They want to blame someone, so they have chosen my son," she said.
But Israeli intelligence, who raided the teenager's home and arrested him on March 25, said he arranged suicide attacks for the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and also for the squads of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
According to court documents, Nasser was recruited into al-Aqsa toward the end of last year by two local leaders of the underground group. At first, he began by putting up posters of Palestinian "martyrs" who died while attacking Israeli targets, but then learned how to build homemade guns, the indictment said. In February, he and his alleged comrades in al-Aqsa were photographed with an M16 assault rifle.
Last October, he was allegedly approached by two al-Aqsa leaders and asked to carry out a suicide bombing. He refused, but agreed to help them find other youths, the indictment said.
On March 22, Nasser approached some of Hussam Abdo's classmates and asked them if they could recommend a boy for a suicide attack. They suggested Hussam. On March 24, Hussam was allegedly picked up in central Nablus, blindfolded, and driven to a deserted house where an al-Aqsa bombmaker gave him an explosive harness ready for use. The boy was photographed and wrote out a farewell message to his parents. He was given a box of eggs to carry and driven to the Harawa checkpoint south of Nablus. There, he was spotted by Israeli soldiers, who instructed him how to remove the bomb harness as he stood shaking with terror, saying he didn't want to die. Hussam was recently charged with attempted murder.