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Army Denies Reports That One Bus Hijacker Was Taken Alive

A military spokesman denied yesterday widespread media reports that one of the four terrorists who hijacked a Tel Aviv-to-Ashkelon bus on April 12 survived the army assault on the vehicle to rescue the passengers who were being held hostage.

The four terrorists, all residents of the Gaza Strip, were buried Sunday night under army supervision. But according to reports in newspapers and on television in Israel and abroad, one of them, identified as Majdi Abu Jama, 18 of Beni Shuheila village was seen after the assault, being led away from the scene in handcuffs, apparently unharmed, by Israeli security men. The prisoner was photographed by an Israeli reporter.

The implication was that the terrorist was killed after his arrest. The military spokesman repeated the official announcement made after the rescue that two of the terrorists were killed instantly when troops stormed the bus, another died shortly afterwards and the fourth died on the way to a hospital.

According to media reports, relatives and friends of the dead terrorist identified the photograph of the man being led away as Abu Jama. But the army said the error was due to mistaken identity. The man led away in handcuffs was a passenger on the bus who had been mistaken for a terrorist. When he was discovered to be an innocent Jewish traveller, he was released, the spokesman said.

That version seemed to be confirmed by one of the passengers who told reporters later that he had been suspected but freed when he produced his identity card.

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