LONDON (May. 1)
The discovery that the suicide bomber who killed three people in a Tel Aviv pub this week was British hasn’t surprised either Jewish community or government security sources.
Asif Mohammed Hanif, a 21-year-old university student from west London, blew himself up outside Mike’s Place on the Tel Aviv beach promenade.
Omar Khan Sharif, a 27-year-old from Derby in the English Midlands, fled the scene after his explosive belt failed to detonate. As of Thursday he was still at large.
Both held British passports.
Hanif is believed to be the first foreign suicide bomber in Israel, as well as the first British citizen to carry out a suicide attack.
“This has been on the cards for some time,” an unnamed senior British security source told the London Evening Standard. “We knew this would happen one day.”
A spokeswoman for the Community Security Trust, British Jewry’s official security organization, told JTA that Islamic extremist groups based in Britain continue to encourage British Muslims to become suicide bombers as part of a jihad, or holy war, against Israel and the Jewish people.
“Demonstrations in the U.K. have seen Muslims dressed as mock suicide bombers, chanting ‘Bomb, bomb Tel Aviv,’ and flying the Hamas and Hezbollah flags,” the spokeswoman said.
“Extremist organizations such as al-Muhajiroun” — a London-based Islamist organization that recruits extensively on university campuses — “have called for years for young Muslims in the U.K. to do jihad training,” she said. “These groups perceive suicide bombing to be a legitimate form of resistance. This act is the culmination of these calls to jihad.”
The CST and the Board of Deputies — the umbrella body that represents most British Jews — for a number of years have feared that Britain has become a fertile breeding ground for Islamic extremists.
Last month, the organizations submitted a joint memorandum to the House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Committee, calling for coordinated action to be taken against U.K.-based terrorist groups.
“Terrorist groups which have, in effect been chased out of the USA and some European countries may be seeking to establish themselves in Britain,” Neville Nagler, director general of the Board, commented at the time.
The revelation of the bombers’ apparent British citizenship, discovered after their passports were found near the scene, substantiates the campaign by the Board and the CST, some say.
“We trust this will give a jolt to the British authorities, who ought now to recognize the extent to which Britain has become a haven for international terrorists,” Nagler said.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.K. security forces have been on high alert, focusing mainly on British links to Osama Bin Laden’s Al-Qaida terrorist network.
There have been a number of high profile arrests and trials of Islamic radicals from or based in Britain. The roll call is extensive.
The “Shoe Bomber,” Richard Reid, who attempted to blow up a Miami-bound plane, was born and spent much of his life in Britain.
Zacarias Moussaoui, who allegedly was to have been the twentieth hijacker on Sept. 11 — and the first person charged for the Sept. 11 attacks — is believed to have been a member of an Al-Qaida cell in south London.
Another Londoner, Ahmed Saeed Sheikh, masterminded the kidnap and murder of Wall Street Times reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan in January 2002.
Last month, two Algerians were jailed in Britain for 11 years for plotting to raise funds and recruit members for Al-Qaida.
There also have been arrests throughout England of suspects after the deadly poison ricin was found in north London in January.
The arrests were linked to activities in a neighborhood mosque where the cleric, Abu Hamza, had preached support for Bin Laden and jihad. The immigration department of the Home Office is now taking steps to remove Abu Hamza’s British citizenship.
Another Muslim cleric, Jamaican-born Abdullah el-Feisal, was sentenced in March to nine years in prison for soliciting murder and stirring up racial hatred. Based in east London, el-Feisal had distributed tapes calling for Muslims to kill non-believers, Jews, Americans and Hindus.
In addition to keeping an eye on Al-Qaida and other international Islamist networks such as the Algerian fundamentalist group GIA, British security forces are watching al-Muhajiroun, an extremist fringe organization for which Sharif allegedly recruited.
The group claims to have sent hundreds of British Muslims to fight for the Taliban in Afghanistan against U.S.-led forces in 2001.
The U.K. spokesman for al-Muhajiroun, Anjem Choudhury, supported the attack carried out by Sharif or Hanif, but he refused to say if the two were members of al-Muhajiroun.
“I do not know if either of these men was a member, but we have made it clear that this attack is something we would celebrate,” Choudhury told the Times newspaper.
Choudhury also has said that Muslims worldwide have an obligation to support others carrying out jihad.
Choudhury’s remarks have been roundly condemned by a number of high-profile Muslim organizations and leaders in Britain. A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain — a moderate body that represents more than 350 mosques and Islamic organizations here — described Choudhury’s comments as inflammatory and harmful to Muslims’ relations with others communities.
“The seeming involvement of two British Muslims marks a tragic and worrying development,” the council’s spokesman said.
“Whereas British Muslims do sympathize with the Palestinian cause, the murder of innocent civilians could never be condoned. It is abhorrent to Islam,” he added.
One of the two Muslim Members of Parliament, Khalid Mahmood — a centrist from the ruling Labor Party — condemned Britain’s fringe Islamists.
“These are people who have been tolerated for too long in this country and who have been allowed to preach their vile doctrines,” Mahmood said.
Hamas and the Al-Aksa Brigade of Fatah jointly claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s bombing, which took place yards from the American Embassy in Tel Aviv. It’s not clear if Sharif or Hanif had any links to either group.
A spokesman for the British Foreign Office, who says they are working closely with Israeli authorities on the bombing investigation and in tracking down Sharif, refused to comment on the pair’s backgrounds or to confirm their British citizenship.
“We are cooperating, through our embassy in Tel Aviv, with the Israelis, and are carefully checking all this out,” the spokesman told JTA.
Speaking on BBC national radio, Israel’s ambassador to London, Zvi Shtauber, relayed Jerusalem’s appreciation for British help in the search for Sharif.