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Israel seeks sponsor of teen's suicide mission

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JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A day after Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus stopped and disarmed a Palestinian boy who was wearing a vest packed with explosives, Israeli officials Thursday sought to determine who was responsible for sending him on what was to have been a suicide terrorist attack.

"Our primary concern, at this time, is to find this terror cell who has used him and has used children in the past, through the same checkpoint, and try to get hold of them before they turn more children into human bombs," Maj. Sharon Feingold, a spokeswoman for the Israel Defense Forces, said.

"It's a horrifying image of a young boy turned into a human bomb and sent on a deathly mission to kill not only himself but many other Palestinian civilians who were standing at the checkpoint at the time -- a very gruesome and sick image," she said.

The boy said he is 14. Israeli security sources and the boy's family said he is 16.

The IDF spokeswoman said the boy was allowed to speak Thursday morning with his parents and was being questioned by authorities.

Feingold said she witnessed Wednesday's drama on the West Bank. "The boy was very frightened. He's a young child and, with all the attention around him, he realized what he was supposed to do and became very frightened."

She said authorities handled the boy "with care."

The spokeswoman said that, though he is not an adult, he bears some responsibility for his actions. "This youngster consciously and knowingly went onto his mission knowing he was to become a human bomb," she said.

The boy was stopped at the checkpoint by military personnel who drew their guns and told him to lift his shirt. When he complied, he revealed a vest stuffed with more than 17 pounds (8 kg) of explosives.

"He raised his hands, then we grabbed him and persuaded him to assist us to dismantle the suicide vest that he was wearing," Feingold said.

As a camera recorded the drama, the boy -- standing isolated in the road -- told soldiers he didn't want to die.

Explosives experts then used a robot to give scissors to the boy. After struggling with the straps, he removed the vest, then raised his arms to show soldiers he had no more explosives.

Wednesday's discovery was not the first time authorities have discovered children recruited for missions of violence, she said. "A week ago, we caught an 11-year-old boy, who was a courier, carrying a bag of explosives."

The boy, Abdullah Quran, was detained at a checkpoint near Nablus. An Israeli soldier discovered he was carrying between seven and 10 kilograms of explosives in a bag.

Israel Defense Forces said the boy did not know that the bag contained explosives. He said he was given five shekels -- the equivalent of about one U.S. dollar -- to carry it through the checkpoint and to give it to an old woman at the next checkpoint.

Eventually, Abdullah was questioned and released.

Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in a targeted Israeli airstrike on Monday, had issued a religious edict forbidding the use of children in terrorist attacks.

Hamas, an Islamic fundamentalist group, has a military wing called Izzedine al Qassam that has carried out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and the Israeli military.

The U.S. State Department has labeled Hamas a terrorist organization.

The IDF said 29 suicide bombing attacks have been carried out by youths since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensified in September 2000.

Israel has been on high alert since Yassin's killing amid threats of revenge by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups.

It has also continued with incursions into Palestinian territories -- a tactic Israel says is aimed at the terrorists and their infrastructure rather than civilians.

CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.

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