The Mumbai terror attack’s first prototype: Mike’s Place, Tel Aviv, 2003

Five years ago, al Qaeda enlisted two Pakistani British Muslims to land by sea in Tel Aviv, seize a large beachside hotel and the nearby US embassy, take hostages and shoot as many as possible. Recruited at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque (like Shoe-bomber Richard Reid, Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif were trained for their mission in neighboring Syria and Gaza Strip.
But they missed their main objectives. Instead, they hit Mike’s Place, a bar, killing three Israelis and injuring 60. Those directives, however, recurred strikingly – albeit on a mega-scale – in the Islamist terrorists’ method of operation in Mumbai, on Wednesday, Nov. 26.
Mumbai was attacked – not by two but an estimated 30 terrorists, who were assigned seven targets in a world city of more than 16 million. Had the pair of bombers carried off their Tel Aviv mission as instructed, less than two years after 9/11, it would have resonated hugely for al Qaeda. The two British Islamists were prepared as meticulously as the much larger group of Mumbai attackers, spending months in Gaza taking instruction from Hamas in suicide tactics with bomb vests, after their initial indoctrination in Syria.
The 2003 attack started going askew when, at the last moment, Hanif and Sharif’s al Qaeda controller changed the original plan. Instead of landing in Tel Aviv by sea, the bombers were told to make their way from Gaza to the Israeli town several days before the target date, register at a hotel with their British passports and thoroughly scout the targeted locations.
Although by 2008, al Qaeda had advanced from bomb vests to commando tactics, careful reconnaissance and mounting operations from neighboring countries were abiding elements of their mode of operation, as revealed in the Mumbai assault.
The 2003 operation began to unravel after the two bombers, instead of making for a hotel and the US embassy, attacked a bar, only to find their bomb vests were defective. Hanif’s detonated only partly, killing three Israelis and himself, Sharif’s did not work at all and he ran off.
Then, too, the UK government disowned any British connection in the incident, which was easier then, given the small scale of the incident.
The full story came out only four years later in May 2007, when US forces in Iraq captured Al Hadi al Iraqi, who turned out to be the al Qaeda operative who trained Hanif and Sharif and sent them to Tel Aviv in April 2003.

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