| A picture handed out by the Israeli police shows the British passport of Asif Mohammed Hanif. (Reuters)
London, May 2: The Indian high commission in London has taken steps to make it harder for suspected British terrorists of Pakistani origin to slip into India, it was claimed today.
This follows disclosure from Israeli authorities that the latest suicide bombings in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, in which three persons were killed and more than 50 injured, were carried out by Asif Mohammed Hanif, 21, who allegedly carried a British passport. The place of birth on Hanif’s passport was given as Bhowani in India.
Another British passport holder, Derby-born Omar Khan Sharif, 27, said to be his accomplice, escaped after his bomb failed to explode.
According to diplomatic sources in London, all visa applications from people of Pakistani origin in Britain — many of the younger generation are now British born — have been automatically referred back to Delhi for clearance since April last year. Processing can take up to four weeks while checks are made.
The action is said to be “reciprocal” because of the reluctance of Pakistani authorities to grant visas to British passport holders of Indian origin, many of who have been journalists.
Hanif is not the first Briton to have been involved in terrorist violence. In January last year, Omar Saeed Sheikh masterminded the kidnap and murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan. He was sentenced to death in Pakistan last year.
Sheikh, originally from Wanstead, east London, attended a British public school before dropping out of the London School of Economics. He acted as a tour guide in Delhi and was involved in the kidnap of British tourists in India. He was captured in India but later had to be handed over to Pakistan, where he resumed his terrorist activities. In January 2001, after an explosion in an army camp in Kashmir, it was claimed that the suicide bomber involved, Mohammmed Bilal, was from Birmingham.
Indian diplomatic sources said they had urged the British to take terrorism in Kashmir more seriously. “If you don’t, it can come back to haunt you,” was a typical comment today.
Hanif and Sharif are said to have entered Israel from the Gaza Strip several weeks ago. They checked into a Tel Aviv backpackers’ hostel, featured in a Lonely Planet guide, hours before their attack.
It has now been revealed that Hanif worked in a duty-free shop at London’s Heathrow airport from August 1998 to December 2000.
Speaking at the family home in Hounslow, west London, Hanif’s brother Taz said: “I just can’t believe it. He was just a big teddy bear — that’s what people said about him. We used to watch the news and our parents said the suicide stuff is not good. What do you achieve by killing yourself and killing other people' If he did do that, it was wrong — but I can’t believe he did.”
Taz lives in the house with family members, including another brother. It seems that Asif had been studying Arabic at Damascus University in Syria. Hanif’s other brother Asum said: “We knew him as a lovely person. We never thought he had extremist views. It has been a few weeks since he was last in contact.”
The man said to be his accomplice, Omar Sharif, had received a good education in Derby. For a couple of years, he attended a preparatory school that is a feeder for Repton, a famous public school. He is thought to have studied IT at university and been a computer salesman after graduating. In London, Sharif met and married his wife, Tahira, and the couple have two children.
Sharif’s father, Sardar Mohammed, from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, made his money through a string of fast-food restaurants and a health club. Both he and his wife, Rashida — she had five other children before him — died several years ago. But for some curious reason they registered their son under three different names in the months after his birth — Javad Khan, Omar Sharif and Javad Sharif.
The alleged involvement of Hanif and Sharif in terrorism has serious consequences for the 1.6 million-strong Muslim community in Britain, which will undoubtedly feel threatened because of the activities of a small extremist fringe element. The British security forces will now try to find out how disaffected young Muslims are recruited in the UK by terrorist organisations.
There is the growing worry that terrorists will soon pick targets in Britain. There are several British terrorist connections. London-born Richard Reid, 29, an al-Qaida sympathiser, tried to carry out a suicide attack on a Paris-to-Miami flight in December 2001. He was overpowered by passengers as he tried to ignite explosives in his shoe and was jailed for life in the US in January 2003.
Seven Britons captured during military action against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 are also being held without charge at Camp X-Ray in Cuba. They include Shafiq Rasul, 24, a former law student from a Muslim family, Asif Iqbal, a factory worker from a Pakistani family and student Ruhal Ahmed, both 20. All are all from Tipton in the West Midlands and were found with the Taliban in Afghanistan at the end of 2001.
Security sources claim that between 200 and 300 British-based Muslims have gone out to Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir and Yemen to fight and, in some cases, to receive terrorist training. The member of parliament for the Birmingham seat of Perry Barr, Khalid Mahmood, said the latest news was “shocking” but came as little surprise.
“There are people who have been tolerated for too long in this country, who have been allowed to preach their vile doctrines. Young British Muslims probably don’t know enough about their own religion to challenge these fanatics,” he said.