Phone Bomb Kills Terrorist Yahya Ayyash
Yahya Ayyash. Photo: Public Domain

January 5, 1996

Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash is killed in Gaza City when his cellphone explodes during his weekly phone call to his father in the West Bank. It is a targeted assassination by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, which intercepts the call, confirms Ayyash’s identity and detonates the explosives, instantly killing him.

Ayyash, one of the founders of Hamas’ Izzadin Kassam Martyrs Brigades, designed many of the bombs used in a wave of Palestinian suicide attacks on Israelis during the 1990s. Ayyash, who had a degree in electrical engineering and was nicknamed “The Engineer,” joined a wing of Hamas in 1992. He created bombs that killed more than 80 Israelis and maimed 400 others.

After learning in 1995 that Ayyash had secretly moved from the West Bank to Gaza, Israeli intelligence eventually found him among Hamas insiders in Gaza City. The Shin Bet determined that an arrest raid or airstrike would fail or would lead to unnecessary civilian casualties. A Hamas informant who reportedly received $1 million and refuge in the United States helped the Shin Bet smuggle Ayyash’s phone out of and back into Gaza so it could be turned into a bomb.

Thousands of Gazans attend Ayyash’s funeral, and Yasser Arafat and other Palestinian Authority leaders express their condolences, and Palestinians carry out attacks as revenge for the assassination. Streets and squares in numerous Palestinian cities are named after Ayyash.