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The Peace-Terror Connection By: Telegraph.co.uk
Telegraph.co.uk | Monday, May 05, 2003


The two British suicide bombers who blew up a seafront bar in Tel Aviv, killing three people, had posed earlier as peace activists, acting as "human shields" for Palestinians, sources in the Gaza Strip said yesterday.

As Israeli police and intelligence agencies stepped up their hunt for Omar Khan Sharif, who fled after failing to blow himself up, it was reported that the two had spent at least four days in the Gaza Strip.

Sharif and Asif Mohammed Hanif, who died at the scene, were believed to have entered Israel separately. They travelled to the Gaza Strip last week through the heavily-guarded Erez border crossing. It was unclear if this was to receive orders, obtain explosives or establish their cover.

Britain has pledged to do all it can to assist the Israeli security forces, and officers from MI5 and MI6 have been drafted in.

Sharif, 27, who is married with two children, was a pupil at Foremarke Hall, the prep school for Repton, before attending a state school in Derby. He became a devout Muslim while living in London, where he attended university, and returned to Derby five years ago following the death of his mother.

Hanif, 21, was a secondary school pupil at Cranford Community College, Hounslow, west London, where he achieved good results in business studies.

After leaving school he travelled extensively in the Middle East and studied Arabic at Damascus university.

Scotland Yard said neither was known to police. The investigation in Britain will concentrate on their backgrounds, how they came to be radicals and who they associated with in London.

Al Muhajiroun, the extremist group led by Omar Bakri Mohammed, held meetings at the mosque in Hounslow where Hanif worshipped and has a strong presence in Derby.

Security sources said Hanif and Sharif might have met in Damascus. This may point to a link with other extremist groups, such as Lebanon's Hizbollah.

A Palestinian taxi driver who declined to give his name said he picked them up on Tuesday last week and dropped them off in Gaza City after an argument over the fare to Rafah.

A Western pro-Palestinian activist said the two later took part in a protest march in Rafah to commemorate Rachel Corrie, an American "human shield" killed by an Israeli bulldozer last March.

"As soon as I heard the names, my heart sank," he said. "I did not need to see the picture, but when the picture came, they are there."

Hanif and Sharif returned to Israel to carry out the attack on a tourist bar called Mike's Place, close to the American embassy, early on Wednesday.

Hanif detonated his bomb when a private security guard asked to see his papers. Hanif's body was torn apart but the guard survived.

Sharif also tried to blow himself up but the device apparently failed to go off.

The public has been urged to call police with information on Sharif's whereabouts. Cdr Yossi Sedbon, the Tel Aviv police chief, said: "We believe he is still in the country."

Police squads searched youth hostels and the area between Tel Aviv and the former Arab port of Jaffa.

Israeli security forces yesterday launched an armoured raid into the heart of Gaza City, killing 12 Palestinians, including a two-year-old boy.

It was unclear whether the operation, which resulted in the apparent killing of three wanted Hamas activists, was linked to the bombing.




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