NAZARETH, Israel, March 3 – A distraught Israeli couple entered one of Christianity’s holiest sites on Friday and set off a series of small explosions, witnesses said, sparking a large riot that left six people wounded in this Arab town in northern Israel…
Police said the couple, joined by a young female accomplice, were disguised as Christian pilgrims when they entered the Basilica of the Annunciation and set off firecrackers and other small explosives. Church officials said the site was unguarded, and witnesses said the explosives were hidden in a baby stroller.
A witness who identified herself only by her first name, Rouan, said the church was crowded with worshippers praying for the coming Easter holiday.
“We heard a boom. It went on for six or seven minutes,” said the 22-year-old woman. “I thought we were going to die.” She said the blast left black spots on the walls inside, but witnesses said there was no serious damage.
Within minutes, thousands of people began rioting outside, preventing police from entering. The attackers remained barricaded inside for several hours before police broke through the crowd and took them into custody.
The attackers were disguised in police uniforms as they were led away, officials said. They were taken to a hospital for a psychiatric evaluation, officials said.
During the riot, protesters attacked an Israeli ambulance, breaking its windows and forcing it to turn away. A police car also was set ablaze.
Hundreds of police, including elite commando units, rushed to the scene to bring the riot under control. Six people, including several officers, were injured, medical officials said.
By late Friday, the riot had stopped, though the situation remained tense. Hundreds of young men milled about, as small bonfires set inside garbage bins crackled and the acrid smell of tear gas blanketed the air. An Israeli helicopter hovered overhead.
Police said the couple involved in the attack had been treated for psychiatric problems in the past. Police said the couple had previously threatened to attack churches, and also spent time in the Palestinian territories, including a visit to the late Yasser Arafat’s headquarters.
The officials said authorities had questioned the Jerusalem couple this week and threatened to place their children in foster care. There was no information on their accomplice, but the Haaretz daily said it was their daughter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Israeli Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said the attack did not appear to have nationalist motivations. He said the husband is Jewish and the wife is Christian.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni contacted the Vatican late Friday, offering assurances that Israel is committed to protecting Christian holy places, officials said. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also discussed the situation with Nazareth’s mayor, Olmert’s office said.
Different rewrites of this AP account seem to be all that’s available on this story at the moment, and it is a confusing account. Were the attackers disguised as Christian pilgrims or as police? Or did they switch disguises in the middle of the attack? This seems pretty elaborate if they had no “nationalist motivations” and were simply nuts. Were the arresting officers Israeli or Palestinian? Were the protesters Christians or Muslims, or both?
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