Lt.-Col. (res.) Yossi Voltinsky makes it a habit to pick up hitchhikers on his way to work in downtown Eilat. But seconds after he allowed a man in his 20s to enter his vehicle Monday, he realized that he had made a terrible mistake.
Police believe the suicide bomber, Muhammad Faisal Saksak, arrived at Voltinsky's Shachmon neighborhood after crossing the Egyptian border.
Voltinsky said the young man aroused his suspicions when he entered the car and sat in the back seat. The 21-year-old Gaza native refused to speak to Voltinsky, giving directions with his hands.
"I thought he was a hotel employee," Voltinsky recalled. "But when he entered the car, I immediately sensed a problem. As soon as he got in, I realized that he was an enemy."
"I asked where he wanted to go, and he gestured towards the center of town," he said. "I released my safety belt in case he attacked me or something like that."
Voltinsky said he then drove away from populated areas, heading for the Eilat Bypass Road while trying to get Saksak to speak. But the only word that the terrorist uttered was "Haifa."
Voltinsky wanted to drive out of the city, but he feared that if he did so, the passenger would attack soldiers stationed at the checkpoint just outside of the town.
Voltinsky said Saksak caught him reaching for his mobile phone and that when he began to drive faster, Saksak became threatening. At that point, Voltinsky said, he stopped the car with the intent of locking the passenger inside.
But as soon as he undid his seat belt, Saksak leapt out of the vehicle, mumbling something in a language other than Hebrew. Voltinsky then began to pursue Saksak in his vehicle, but lost him while calling police.
Two patrol cars were dispatched following Voltinsky's call, but to no avail.
Residents of the Ha'arava neighborhood noticed Saksak wandering in the streets. At least one other person called police to alert them there was a man walking the streets wearing a heavy winter jacket despite the balmy weather.
Saksak entered the neighborhood bakery, and within five seconds, he detonated the explosives in his backpack. The blast scattered glass and blood over freshly-baked loaves of bread, and sent pastries and wreckage flying onto the sidewalk outside.
Residents said the two owners who were killed in the blast along with one of their workers were fast becoming fixtures in the community, where more than half the people are foreign workers or short-term renters. The owners were hoping to revitalize the aging, economically ailing commercial strip known as "Isadore."
If the bombing had taken place later in the day, locals said, there would have been many customers in the bakery.
Eilat residents, devastated by the resort city's first suicide bombing, are now worried that the tropical paradise, often seen as exempt from Israel's perennial security problems, may have been lost.