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Keystone Kops? Reports call Israeli agents too noisy

Mossad agents who bungled the bugging of a suspected Islamic militant in an apartment block in Switzerland made so much noise that they woke another tenant who alerted police, Israeli newspapers said Friday.

Swiss police detained three men and two women after the break-in but freed four of them shortly afterward - to the chagrin of Swiss prosecutors - because officers at the scene couldn't find anything suspicious. The fifth agent, caught with a bag of wiretapping equipment, was held.The botched Feb. 19 bugging is the latest in a series of foul-ups that have tainted the reputation of the secret service that once instilled dread and admiration for its daring missions.

In Israel, calls grew louder Friday for an investigation into who leaked news of the failed operation to Israeli media, prompting Swiss authorities to go public Thursday - thwarting efforts by the two governments to settle the matter quietly.

Some Israeli politicians accused senior Mossad officials of tipping off journalists in order to try to force out Mossad chief Danny Yatom, who resigned Tuesday after a damning investigation into an earlier fiasco.

Switzerland has demanded a public apology, but for now Israel is reluctant to comply, Israel radio said Friday.

The target of the bugging operation was a six-story house in the Bern suburb of Liebefeld, which had two tenants with Arab names - Abdallah El-Zein and his European wife on the third floor and the Bouchoucha family on the sixth floor. Neighbors told the Yediot Ahronot daily that the Bouchouchas had lived in the building for many years. El-Zein had frequent visitors, they said.

At about 2 a.m. on the day of the attempted bugging, the five Mossad agents drove up to the apartment block in two cars, the Haaretz daily said.

One agent opened the glass entrance door, apparently with a key, and two others went to work planting the sophisticated bugging device in the utilities box in the basement. Two others waited outside as lookouts.

But they made so much noise that a resident of a ground floor apartment woke up and called police, the newspapers said.

"This is a building with thin walls," one of the tenants told Haaretz. "They should have worked more professionally."

On Thursday, Swiss Foreign Ministry representatives met with Iranian Ambassador Kia Tabatabaee to stress that neither the Iranian Embassy nor its diplomats were the targets of the bugging, ministry spokeswoman Yasmine Chatila said Friday.