The hitchhiker's refusal to speak Hebrew and the way he kept his hand in his pocket convinced the Israeli driver of the worst possibility — he had just picked up a homicide bomber.

Moments after Yossi Voltinski gave a ride to the hitchhiker Monday morning, his mind began racing over scenarios — how to get rid of him without getting killed — and how to minimize the damage from the attack he knew was coming.

Voltinski emerged unscathed, but three Israelis were killed when the Palestinian from the Gaza Strip blew himself up in the Red Sea resort of Eilat.

Since the bombing, Voltinski has been all over Israeli media, telling of his dilemma in trying inconspicuously to distance the nervous man with a big backpack from the crowded center of town.

Voltinski just hoped the man wouldn't blow himself up in the car.

"Only after he got in the vehicle and sat in the back seat did I realize that I had a problem," Voltinski told Channel 10 TV. "He was wearing a coat closed tightly and was wearing a hat, and he didn't speak Hebrew."

Such heavy clothing is unusual even in the winter in Eilat, which is warm the year around.

He grew more suspicious when the man wouldn't say where he wanted to go, only motioning to downtown. Then the passenger said, in Arabic, that he wanted to go to Haifa, a drive of about five hours north.

"I realized something was going on, and I drove on to a side road that is relatively quiet, where there are no entertainment places or stores," said Voltinski, an auditor for a hotel chain and a lieutenant colonel in the army reserves.

In an effort to ensure his quick escape should the man decide to detonate the explosives, the 49-year-old Israeli unbuckled his seat belt. When he reached for his phone, the passenger leaned forward, suspicious.

Finally Voltinski stopped the car on the quiet road, and the man just got out, apparently hoping find a crowded area to inflict the greatest harm, as most suicide bombers have.

Voltinski considered running the man over, but was still afraid he was wrong, that maybe the man was just deranged or mentally retarded. He called the police.

They arrived too late. Minutes later a policeman called back to tell of him of the explosion at a small neighborhood bakery, about half a mile from where Voltinski let him out.