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Context of 'February 19-20, 2003: Lead 7/7 London Bomber Visits Israel, Allegedly Assists Suicide Bombing There'

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Omar Sharif (left) and Asif Hanif (right).Omar Sharif (left) and Asif Hanif (right). [Source: Reuters/ Corbis]Manchester businessman Kursheed Fiaz will later claim that in the summer of 2001, he is visited by Mohammad Sidique Khan, Omar Sharif, and Asif Hanif. Khan will later be known as the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), while Sharif and Hanif will both die bombing a cafe in Israel in 2003, killing three (see April 30, 2003). Fiaz will claim that the three came to his offices to encourage young Muslims working there in “the new ways of Islam.” The three discuss traveling to Syria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to better understand Islam, but the mention of places like Afghanistan turns the potential recruits off. This incident will suggest that Khan was radicalized earlier than previously thought. He apparently attends an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan around this time (see July 2001). The incident also confirms links between the three men, increasing suspicions that Khan helped the other two in a trip to Israel shortly before their suicide attack (see February 19-20, 2003). Fiaz will not disclose this incident until after the 7/7 bombings. [BBC, 7/9/2006] Khan and Sharif are particularly close, as both attend the same mosque in the small town of Beeston, near Leeds. [Independent, 7/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Omar Sharif, Kursheed Fiaz, Asif Hanif, Mohammad Sidique Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In his 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, journalist Ron Suskind will claim that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, was monitored as he attempted to fly to the US. According to Suskind, NSA surveillance discovers that Khan is coming to the US soon and has been in contact with suspect US citizens, including Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, an Islamist radical living in Virginia. E-mails between Khan, Ali, and others discuss plans for various violent activities, including a desire to “blow up synagogues on the East Coast.” FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, reads the intercepts and advocates either a very intensive surveillance of Khan when he is in the US, or not letting him in at all. Officials, including Joe Billy, head of the FBI’s New York office, worry about being held responsible if Khan is allowed into the country and then manages to commit some violent act. With Khan scheduled to come to the US in one day, “top bosses in Washington” quickly decide to put him on a no-fly list. Khan does fly to the US, and is stopped and sent back to Britain. As a result, he realizes the US is onto him and presumably takes greater precautions. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 200-203]
Confusion - However, when Suskind’s book is published in June 2006, a number of articles will dispute Suskind’s claim. For instance, Newsweek will report that “several US and [British] law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials” anonymously claim that Suskind is mistaken, and is confusing Sidique Khan with another British suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006] The Telegraph reaches the same conclusion, and points out that Ajmal Khan pleaded guilty in a British trial in March on charges of providing weapons and funds to the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba. During that trial, it was revealed that he made several trips to the US and met with a group of suspected militants in Virginia, including one named Ahmed Omar Abu Ali.
Stands by Story - However, Suskind will resolutely stand by his story, saying, “In my investigation and in my book and in my conversations with people in the US government, there was no mistake or doubt that we are talking about Mohammad Sidique Khan, not Mohammed Ajmal Khan.” He says he was aware of the difference between the two and suggests British officials may have been trying to push Ajmal Khan instead to cover up their failures to stop the 7/7 bombings. The two officials mentioned by name in Suskind’s account, Coleman and Billy, apparently say nothing to the press to confirm or deny the story. [Daily Telegraph, 6/22/2006]
Visit to Israel - Curiously, it will be reported shortly after the 7/7 bombings that Khan visits Israel around this time, February 19-20, 2003, and the Israeli daily newspaper Maariv will claim he is suspected of helping two Pakistani-Britons plot a suicide bombing that kills three Israelis several months later (see February 19-20, 2003). [Guardian, 7/19/2005]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, National Security Agency, Joe Billy, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Ahmed Omar Abu Ali, Dan Coleman, Mohammed Ajmal Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), travels to Israel, staying there for only 24 hours. Israeli officials will confirm the visit in 2006. This is seven weeks before two British citizens, Omar Sharif and Asif Hanif, attack a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, with suicide bombs, killing three (see April 30, 2003). It is strongly suspected that Khan comes to Israel to help facilitate the bombing in some way, especially since Khan was seen in the company of Sharif and Hanif as far back as 2001 and was Sharif’s friend (see Summer 2001). However, Khan’s precise role, if any, in the cafe bombing is unknown, and apparently his connection to the two bombers will not be discovered by authorities until after the 7/7 bombings. [BBC, 7/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Asif Hanif, Omar Sharif, Mohammad Sidique Khan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Asif Hanif (left) and Omar Sharif (right) holding AK-47 rifles and a Koran. Apparently this is from a video filmed on February 8, 2003, in the Gaza Strip.Asif Hanif (left) and Omar Sharif (right) holding AK-47 rifles and a Koran. Apparently this is from a video filmed on February 8, 2003, in the Gaza Strip. [Source: Public domain]In March 2003, the British domestic intelligence agency MI5 arrests eight members of the Islamist militant group Al-Muhajiroun in the city of Derby. Two other Britons, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, are also identified as members of the group, but they are not arrested. MI5 is also aware that Sharif is connected to the Finsbury Park mosque where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] When police raided Abu Hamza’s mosque in January, they even found a letter from Sharif to Abu Hamza inquiring about the proper conduct of jihad. The letter contained Sharif’s address in Derby. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 90-91] MI5 does not monitor either Hanif or Sharif, and instead simply keeps their names on file, believing them to be harmless. Later that same month, Italian undercover journalist Claudio Franco, posing as a Muslim convert, visits the London office of Al-Muhajiroun and meets Hanif. Hanif, unaware that he is being formally interviewed, tells Franco that he is sorry the poison ricin was allegedly seized in a raid elsewhere in London (see January 7, 2003) before it could be used in an attack. The next month, Hanif and Sharif travel to Israel and are killed on a suicide bombing mission which kills three others (see April 30, 2003). After the bombing, Al-Muhajiroun’s official leader, Anjem Choudary, calls the two bombers martyrs. The group’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, admits he knew both men. But the group is not banned. [Daily Mail, 5/5/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005] Other members of the group will attempt to build a large fertilizer bomb in early 2004 (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004), but the group will still not be banned, then or later. (It will disband on its own in late 2004 (see October 2004).) Investigators also fail to discover that Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), knew both men, was friends with Sharif and attended the same small mosque as he did (see Summer 2001), and traveled to Israel weeks before they did in a probable attempt to help with the bombing (see February 19-20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Omar Sharif, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Anjem Choudary, UK Security Service (MI5), Al-Muhajiroun, Asif Hanif, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombing damage at Mike’s Place.Bombing damage at Mike’s Place. [Source: Associated Press]On April 30, two British citizens, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, attempt to bomb Mike’s Place, a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, located very close to the US embassy. Hanif’s bomb goes off, but a security guard prevented him from entering the cafe, so just three people are killed and 65 are injured. Only Sharif’s detonator goes off, so he flees the scene, being chased by several people. He manages to run away, but his dead body is found in the ocean nearby two weeks later. A British inquest will later suggest he drowned, although why he did remains unknown. The two men are Britain’s second known Islamist suicide bombers (see December 25, 2000). They had lived in Britain most of their lives and only arrived in Israel a couple of weeks earlier, after a short stay in Syria. Hamas takes credit for the bombing and later shows a video of their last testaments in which Hanif states: “It is an honor to kill all these people. It is an honor.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/6/2006] The two are believed to have been members of the radical British militant group Al-Muhajiroun. The group’s leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, says Sharif had recently attended a course at his school, studying Islamic law. A reporter claims to have interviewed Hanif by chance at Al-Muhajiroun’s London office a month before the bombing. They also attended the Finsbury Park mosque, where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Observer, 5/4/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005; BBC, 7/9/2006] The pair apparently were featured in a recruitment video for Abu Hamza in March 2000. In 2002, a pair of activists working against Abu Hamza, Neil Doyle and Glen Jenvey, tricked Abu Hamza into sending them some recruitment videos, and one showed two masked men holding assault rifles claiming to be fighting in Bosnia. Only in 2004, after Hamas released the video of Sharif and Hanif’s last testaments, did it become clear they were the masked men in the 2000 video as well. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 9/19/2004] Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), traveled to Israel seven weeks before the bombing, and it is suspected he assisted the bombing in some way, because he had known the two men since at least 2001 (see Summer 2001 and February 19-20, 2003).

Entity Tags: Omar Sharif, Hamas, Al-Muhajiroun, Asif Hanif, Glen Jenvey, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Neil Doyle

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005.The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005. [Source: Scotland Yard]England suffers its worst terrorist attack when four bombs go off in London during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m. bombs go off on three London Underground trains within 50 seconds of each other. A fourth bomb goes off at 9:47 a.m. on a double-decker bus, near Tavistock Square. Fifty-six people, including the four bombers, are killed. The bombings become popularly known as ‘7/7.’ [Daily Telegraph, 7/7/2005; Daily Mail, 7/8/2005; CNN, 7/22/2005] The alleged bombers, all British residents between the ages of 18 and 30, are Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay. All were British nationals of Pakistani descent, except Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, but moved to England when he was five. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2005; BBC, 7/21/2005] In 2004, Khan had been the subject of a routine threat assessment by the British intelligence agency MI5, after his name came up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London. However, MI5 did not consider him a threat and did not place him under surveillance. [BBC, 7/17/2005; London Times, 7/17/2005] According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. [Independent, 12/17/2005] Khan and Tanweer had flown to Pakistan together in November 2004, returning together in February 2005. However, what they did during their stay is unclear. [BBC, 7/18/2005; CNN, 7/20/2005] Less than a month before the bombings, the British government lowered its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe general” to “substantial,” prompted by a confidential report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC, which is made up of 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials, concluded, “At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack [Britain]” (see Mid-June 2005). [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 7/19/2005] The attacks also coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush, amongst others. [Guardian, 7/7/2005] Consequently, 1,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police, including many anti-terrorist specialists, are away in Scotland as part of the force of 12,000 created to police the event. [Press Association (London), 7/7/2005; London Times, 7/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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