Ear­li­er this week, Mike Kel­ly wrote about his jour­ney from 9/11 to Jerusalem’s Jaf­fa Road. His newest book, The Bus on Jaf­fa Road: A Sto­ry of Mid­dle East Ter­ror­ism and the Search for Jus­tice, chron­i­cles the after­math of the Hamas sui­cide bomb­ing of a com­muter bus in down­town Jerusalem on Feb. 25, 1996. The book traces the cap­ture of the key bomb-mak­er and the efforts by the fam­i­lies of two Amer­i­cans to hold Iran account­able for financ­ing the bomb­ing and train­ing the bomb-mak­er – only to dis­cov­er that the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment was try­ing to block them. He will be blog­ging here all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

I need­ed to meet the man who built the bomb that blew up the bus on Jaf­fa Road – the bomb that killed Matt Eisen­feld and Sara Duk­er in 1996

On a Sun­day morn­ing, a decade after that dev­as­tat­ing explo­sion, I walked through the gates of an Israeli prison in the Negev Desert. A prison offi­cial shook my hand, then led me to a room. Min­utes lat­er, amid the shuf­fle of feet and the chunky clank of leg irons, a door opened and I looked into the eyes of Has­san Salameh. 

He is serv­ing 46 con­sec­u­tive life terms for the mur­ders of 46 unarmed and inno­cent peo­ple aboard three com­muter bus­es that were attacked by sui­cide bombers who car­ried explo­sive-filled satchels that he had designed. Salameh looked at me and smiled faintly. 

A prison offi­cial motioned to me that I could begin. 

Salameh had no idea who I was. Israeli prison offi­cials do not tell an inmate any­thing about a vis­i­tor. They mere­ly tell an inmate that a vis­i­tor has arrived and would like to talk. After meet­ing the vis­i­tor, the inmate can then choose to talk or return to his cell. 

I fig­ured I could ask at least one ques­tion before Salameh decid­ed whether to speak to me. 

I decid­ed to try for two.

Do you know the name of Sara Duk­er,” I asked. 

Salameh nod­ded.

Yes,” he said in English. 

He did not get up to leave. Nor did he seem to object to my pres­ence or my question. 

So I asked my sec­ond question:

Why did you kill her?”

So began what I can only describe as a trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence – not trans­for­ma­tive in a pos­i­tive sense, though. It was real­ly the begin­ning of a jour­ney into the heart of dark­ness, an expe­ri­ence that led me to write my book, The Bus on Jaf­fa Road: A Sto­ry of Mid­dle East Ter­ror­ism and the Search for Jus­tice.

On that day at the prison, Salameh was unre­pen­tant, not show­ing even a trace of regret. I was not sur­prised and had been warned that he might exhib­it no remorse. But being warned is one thing; the actu­al expe­ri­ence of see­ing Salameh’s behav­ior first-hand was some­thing else entirely. 

He stared at me with blank, cold eyes. But what stunned me the most, I think, was his sense of joy in what he had done. Yes, he acknowl­edged that he had killed unarmed peo­ple. But he insist­ed that his mur­ders were God’s will.” And from that, he not only seemed sat­is­fied but happy. 

I wrote a news­pa­per col­umn about my con­fronta­tion with Salameh and moved on to oth­er assign­ments. But the expe­ri­ence haunt­ed me. Salameh’s words echoed those of the al-Qae­da killers of 9/11 and far too many Islam­ic jihadists who were try­ing to jus­ti­fy their mur­ders of inno­cent peo­ple by claim­ing it was God’s will. 

Sev­er­al years lat­er, over lunch with a trust­ed book edi­tor, I men­tioned my desire to write about ter­ror­ism. Then I described my inter­view with Salameh and his twist­ed the­ol­o­gy. My lunch com­pan­ion paused, then looked at me. You have to write about this more,” he said. This is where you can start to real­ly probe the hor­rors of terrorism.” 

It was then that my book was born. 

For more infor­ma­tion about The Bus on Jaf­fa Road as well as a video and an excerpt, please check out www​.mikekel​ly​writer​.com.

Relat­ed Content:

A jour­nal­ist for more than three decades, Mike Kel­ly is the author of two books and many prize-win­ning news­pa­per projects and columns for the Bergen Record in north­ern New Jer­sey. His assign­ments have tak­en him to Africa, North­ern Ire­land, Israel, Pales­tine, and Iraq. He cov­ered the 9/11 attacks, the cleanup of Ground Zero, and the 9/11 Com­mis­sion hear­ings in Wash­ing­ton, DC, and has devot­ed much of his time to cov­er­ing terrorism.