Attempt to Reinvent Mike’s Place Bombing Ahead of Aqaba Summit
Someone at Israel’s Shin Beit secret service decided that 2 am Tuesday was just the time to ask Tel Aviv district court to declassify a stream of data from the investigation into the terrorist bombing that took place at Mike’s Place Tel Aviv pub on April 30 leaving 3 Israelis dead and 60 injured.
No one questions that the bomb team consisted of two British Muslims, Asif Muhamed Hanif, who blew himself up, and Omar Khan Sharif, who got away after his bomb belt failed to detonate and never seen since. The gray area began to creep in two weeks later in mid-May when certain Israeli security services claimed that a badly disfigured body washed up by the Mediterranean was the missing British bomber. debkafile questioned this assertion at the time. DNA samples of the missing terrorist and his dental records were withheld by the British authorities and no positive identification was therefore possible.
debkafile counter-terror sources note that identification was not the only subject of controversy among Israeli investigative bodies. Three more points remain at issue:
1. Where did the two British terrorists come from and how did they gain entry into Israel?
2. Where did they obtain the explosives they used?
3. How were they linked to international terrorist groups e.g. Hizballah and al Qaeda?
None of these points are satisfactorily addressed by the new disclosures, despite their importance for developing improved tactics by Israel’s counter-terror services. Rather they add to the confusion.
For instance, if Hanif and Sharif belonged to a British cell activated by or linked to al Qaeda, how did their activities go unnoticed by the Israel Mossad and British anti-terrorist agencies? And if the British did spot them, why did they not alert the Israelis? Does this lapse reflect the real state of inter-agency collaboration in combating global terror or merely the fact that it is dangerously selective?
Another example: There is still no consensus among Israeli investigators on how the explosive material which is not in common use by Palestinian terrorists came be in the hands of the British bombers. Did they smuggle it through themselves? Was it landed clandestinely on the Gaza Strip shore by sea, in which case it stands to reason that a larger quantity was unloaded and awaits use.
debkafile‘s counter-terror sources pose these questions not to fix blame in any quarter, but to clearly mark out some glaring holes in the wall of Israel security through which Sharif and Hanif stole in and were able to carry out their deadly terror attack.
The odd timing of the latest disclosures – the small hours of Tuesday, June 3 – is of particular interest. By then, US president George W. Bush was set to leave for the Middle East to meet Arab rulers in Sharm el-Sheikh; his meeting with Israeli and Palestinian prime ministers in Aqaba was less than 48 hours away and Israeli security had been jolted into a high state of preparedness by warnings of a fresh wave of Palestinian suicides on their way to Jerusalem and other parts of the country.
These events are closely interlinked. They indicate that someone had an interest in closing the Mike’s Place investigation at this time and distancing Palestinian terror as far as possible from international terrorist organizations. Someone in Israel’s defense system carried out a fast exercise to delete Hizballa and al Qaeda associations with the Tel Aviv bombing by declaring, “No one in the Palestinian areas excepting Hamas is capable of pulling off an operation so ambitious.”
This assertion carries little conviction when only last month, al Qaeda proved in Riyadh and Casablanca how effectively its operatives worked with local terror groups to perform elaborate attacks. Above all, the interaction between Palestinian and international terror has become too conspicuous to be swept under any diplomatic rugs or artificially deleted; the events surrounding the Mike’s Place bombing provided no more than striking corroboration:
A. The two British bombers were members of the radical Islamic Al Muhajiroun, a British member-group of al Qaeda.
B. Both were connected with the notorious Finsbury Park mosque in northern London, where also Shoe Bomber Richard Reid was indoctrinated before attempting to blow up an American Airlines airliner in December 2001. Like Hanif and Sharif, Reid also spent time with the Hamas in the Gaza Strip before embarking on his suicide mission.
C. Hanif, the terrorist who died in the attack, worked for two years at the Terminal 3 duty free store of London’s Heathrow airport. The British authorities have repeatedly denied he had access to the runways but have no doubt he took the job with a terror attack in mind, most likely inspired by Egyptian Jihad Islami zealot Hashem Hadayat who ran a limousine service at Los Angeles airport to gain access to the El Al counter, where on July 4, 2002, he shot dead two Israeli passengers. Not until 2003 did the FBI concede that the attack was an act of terror, but never till now, have they attached him to al Qaeda, even though the Egyptian Jihad Islami is known to function as al Qaeda’s chief arm of operations.
D. One of Omar Sharif’s sisters, who is still confined in London as a suspected accessory in the Tel Aviv bombing, was detained at the London home of a Libyan called Altaf Abbasi, known for years for his close ties with Libyan intelligence and influential circles of the extreme political left in the UK. European and Israeli terror experts are also familiar with Abbasi’s clandestine associations with Islamic radical and Palestinian terror groups.
E. The investigation in its first stages quickly established that the pair flew from London to Damascus where they spent months preparing for the attack in Tel Aviv at the Islamic medressas springing up of late around the Syrian capital.
The new set of revelations on the affair was clearly put out because the intensity of operational collaboration between the Palestinian terror groups, Damascus and al Qaeda was considered better tucked out of sight at a moment when the US president needs a free hand for bringing his Middle East peace initiative to a successful climax. Piling on the Palestinians’ international associations could well topple the presidential effort. It would be much harder for him to require Israel to call off its counter-terror operations, accept Abu Mazen’s tolerance for terrorist groups and free Palestinian terrorists from prison in the belief that they can be sanitized as a future anti-terrorist police force.
At the same time, obscuring the Palestinians-Damascus-al Qaeda-Hizballah operational axis bodes ill for the war on terror in general and reduces the Aqaba summit’s chances of achieving any realistic progress towards eliminating Middle East violence.