Questions are being asked about the visit to Israel in 2003 of the presumed leader of the suicide bombers who carried out the 7/7 terrorist attacks in London 10 years ago.
It is suggested that Mohammed Sidique Khan met with – and possibly aided and abetted – the two English terrorists who attacked the popular Tel Aviv sea front restaurant Mike’s Place three weeks later.
Sky News correspondent Tom Rayner on Monday, the eve of the 10th anniversary of the London 7/7 terrorist bombings, undertook an investigation into the travel plans of Khan, the oldest of the London bombers. Khan killed himself and five passengers at the Edgware Road Underground station in the center of the British capital.
On July 7, 2005 (7/7), four men affiliated with al-Qaida detonated four explosions – three on Underground trains and one on a bus, killing themselves and 52 passengers and wounding around 700 people.
According to Rayner, Khan’s hitherto unexplained visit to Israel had not been properly investigated by British authorities. The fact that Khan had apparent links with the two British men who committed the Tel Aviv atrocity should have been followed up, he claimed.
The attack on the Mike’s Place bar on the Tel Aviv beachfront, on April 30, 2003, was carried out by the first-ever British suicide bombers, Asif Hanif, from Hounslow, west London, and Omar Sharif, from Derby.
They killed three people and wounded more than 50. Sharif subsequently fled; his body washed up on the beach on May 12.
Khan had visited Israel for a single day and night on February 19, 2003, crossing from Jordan on what he said was a sightseeing trip to Jerusalem. The trip, which the Sky News report said was confirmed by senior Israeli security officials, followed Khan’s pilgrimage to Mecca.
A British government investigation into the 7/7 bombings published a year later mentioned Khan’s trip to Israel, but concluded there was “no evidence of anything suspicious.” However, the government investigation made no reference to the attack on Mike’s Place, the Sky News report said.
“Numerous indications emerged that Khan might have been an associate of Sharif and Hanif,” including the fact that “all three were involved in the activities of the now-banned Al Muhajiroun group, led by radical preachers Omar Bakri Mohammad and Abu Hamza,” Rayner said.
The Sky News report noted that a 2006 BBC documentary featured an interview with Manchester businessman Kursheed Fiaz, who claimed the trio (Khan, Sharif and Hanif) had approached him in 2001 seeking funding for a project to send young British Muslims for “education in the new ways of Islam” in Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
The news station also spoke to Joshua Faudem, an American-Israeli filmmaker who survived the Mike’s Place bombing. He wrote in a recent novel about the attack that he had never been interviewed by British investigators, despite Israeli intelligence agents insisting the Britons would need to speak to him.
“The end of the meeting was the Israeli investigators saying to me, ‘This is their problem, this is a British problem, yes it happened here, but this is definitely a British investigation.’ They had my details, they said they’d passed them on – and I never heard from them, ever.”
In her closing remarks for the 2011 inquest into 7/7, Lady Justice Hallett said she believed she “had left no stone unturned” in her investigation into whether the intelligence services or police could have done more to identify Khan as a threat before the attacks.
She concluded that despite the fact Khan had appeared in the surveillance of various anti-terrorism operations since as early as 2001, authorities could not have been expected to have taken steps to identify him as a threat in a way that might have prevented the London attacks.
However, Clifford Tibber the solicitor who represented the majority of the families of victims of 7/7, has said he believes Khan’s visit to Israel was relevant to the inquest.
“If I had been aware of this information, I would certainly have asked the coroner to look at it.”
Questions will soon be asked of the British home secretary, Theresa May, by senior opposition MP Keith Vaz who chairs the influential Home Affairs Select Committee. Vaz told Sky News that as the issue was relevant to the families of the 7/7 victims and was not included in the original timeline, “it does need to be considered.”
Sky News also spoke with Israeli analyst Barak Ben-Zur, who previously held a senior position in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency). Ben- Zur characterized the Mike’s Place bombing as “very peculiar” and added that there are legitimate questions to be asked of the subsequent investigation.
“Hamas at that period of time had no need for any foreigners to join their campaign of suicide attacks. In 2003 there were at least 25 suicide attacks – so bringing two people such a long way to Tel Aviv in order to carry out a suicide attack, was very peculiar.” Ben-Zur suggested that Khan may have used his day trip to scout security arrangements at the Allenby Crossing from Jordan to Israel.
His speculative theory was based on the fact that the explosives used in the Mike’s Place attacks were very different than those used in the many Palestinian suicide attacks that were being carried out at that time – making it likely that the Mike’s Place bombers smuggled their explosives, disguised by being molded into books, from Syria, where they had been before entering Israel.
“Ninety-five percent – even more than that – of the explosive charges used in suicide and other terror attacks at that time were based on improvised explosives, assembled and produced in the backyards of Palestinian residents, and here we are finding something professional, prepared very well.
How it was detonated, how it was camouflaged – such a thing was surely carried out by someone that understood explosives very well and was already experienced in preparing such explosive charges,” said Ben-Zur.
Sky News noted that a post- 7/7 investigation by Israeli authorities into whether Khan was involved in the planning of the Mike’s Place attack is understood to have found no evidence to corroborate that he visited Tel Aviv.
Ely Karmon, senior research scholar at the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, said that the Sky News report and previous incidents reveal a failure by Israeli security officials – as well as by their counterparts from the United Kingdom and elsewhere – to properly examine certain suspects and their connections.
In addition to Khan, Karmon said authorities missed the visit by British “shoe bomber” Richard Reid to Israel and the Palestinian territories in June 2001, several months before he attempted to bring down a passenger jet in December 2001 by igniting explosives hidden in his sneakers.
Karmon said that Hamas may have cooperated with al-Qaida because it needed the support of its fighters or because it thought that if it helped with the Mike’s Place bombing, then further down the road al-Qaida could be called on to help Hamas.
When asked why Hamas would go to the trouble to use foreign suicide bombers when there was no shortage of Palestinians willing to carry out such attacks, he said the use of two “British men from good families made more noise than a usual suicide bombing and maybe that’s what Hamas wanted to attain.”