Suspected London Bomber Traveled to Israel

Mohammed Sidique Khan at immigration counter in Pakistan in 2004. He also visited Israel.
Mohammed Sidique Khan at immigration counter in Pakistan in 2004. He also visited Israel. (Ho - Reuters)
By Craig Whitlock and Kamran Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, July 19, 2005

LONDON, July 18 -- One of the suspected London transit bombers visited Israel for one day in the spring of 2003, Israeli authorities have reported as part of an international effort to re-create the travels of the four men investigators believe set off the July 7 explosions.

Mohammed Sidique Khan arrived in Tel Aviv and left the next day, senior Israeli intelligence officials have told Israeli reporters. Investigators say they have found no evidence that his trip was related to the subsequent April 30, 2003, suicide attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub by two British men of Pakistani origin.

New details emerged Monday about trips that three of the four London bombing suspects made to Pakistan. Khan and Shehzad Tanweer arrived in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, on Nov. 16 last year on the same Turkish Airlines flight, then flew home together Feb. 7, Pakistani investigators said after reviewing immigration records.

A third suspect, Hasib Hussain, flew into Karachi on July 15, 2004, on a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight from Riyadh, records show. Pakistani officials said they did not know how long Hussain stayed, but his family in Leeds has told British investigators he was gone for about four months.

With details like these, investigators are trying to retrace the precise movements of the three men, each a British native of Pakistani descent. From Karachi, the men traveled elsewhere in the country. "The main destination in Pakistan for all three suicide bombers was Lahore," a major city near the Indian border, said a senior official with Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency in Karachi, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A senior intelligence official in Lahore said Khan and Tanweer stayed at separate addresses near the city, despite arriving and leaving together.

Tanweer's family has said he left Leeds to attend a religious school, or madrassa , so he could study Arabic and the Koran. They said he intended to stay for nine months but came back early. Pakistani intelligence officials said they have uncovered evidence that all three bombers met with Islamic militants, but have not given details.

Tanweer made a separate visit to Pakistan earlier in 2004 and met with Osama Nazir, who was later arrested and charged with participating in a 2002 grenade attack on a church in Islamabad, the Associated Press reported last week, citing unidentified Pakistani intelligence officials. Five people, including two Americans, died in the explosion. Pakistani officials did not say Monday whether they had found immigration records confirming the trip.

The investigation into the subway and bus bombings in London, which killed at least 55 people including the presumed bombers, has become increasingly focused on connections to Pakistan. Security officials in London have said they are searching for a Pakistani man who entered Britain at an English Channel port two weeks before the attacks and slipped out of the country the day before the bombings. That man, whom officials have not identified, was on Britain's terrorism watch list but was allowed to enter the country.

Although the three bombers arrived in Karachi aboard flights that originated in Istanbul and Riyadh, Pakistani officials said that it appeared those were merely transit points on trips that began in London and that the men did not appear to have broken their journeys in those cities.

Investigators said they were trying to figure out who paid for the tickets and sponsored the trips. Hussain was an unemployed 17-year-old when he traveled to Pakistan. Tanweer worked part time in his father's fish-and-chips restaurant in Leeds, and Khan was a teacher's assistant at an elementary school.

The purpose of Khan's trip to Israel is one of the many unknowns in the investigation.

Several weeks after his visit, a British-born man of Pakistani descent, Assif Muhammad Hanif, blew himself up at Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv nightspot, killing three other people. Two weeks later, the body of another British citizen, Omar Khan Sharif, who investigators say fled the bar after a bomb he was carrying failed to detonate, was found in the sea off Tel Aviv.

Some Israelis wondered whether the timing meant that Khan's visit was somehow related to those attacks. However, Israeli investigators have said they have turned up no such evidence.

Terrorism experts have long worried that terrorists with European Union passports would find it easier to cross borders to carry out attacks.

Pakistani officials said they were cooperating closely with British and U.S. investigators on the London bombing probe. They have tried to deflect suspicions that the plot originated in Pakistan.

"Yes, you can say that the London bombers had some connections in Pakistan," Aftab Khan Sherpao, Pakistan's interior minister, said Monday. "But the investigations so far here and in Britain have shown that citizens from various nations could have been involved in the attack."

In a television interview, Pakistan's U.N. ambassador, Munir Akram, gave a sharper assessment, saying Britain had only itself to blame for the bombings.

"It would be a grave mistake to point fingers at Pakistan or anybody outside your country," Akram told the BBC. "It is important not to pin blame on somebody else when the problem lies internally. Your policies in the Middle East, your policies in the Islamic world -- that is the problem with your society and that is where the problem lies as far as this incident is concerned."

Akram's comments echoed the conclusions of a briefing paper released Monday by one of Britain's most prominent foreign policy research groups. The report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said Britain's strong support for the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the U.S. approach to fighting terrorism, has been "a high-risk policy" that has left Britain more vulnerable to attacks at home.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw dismissed such criticism, saying that "the time for excuses for terrorism is over."

At a gathering of European foreign ministers in Brussels, Straw said, "The terrorists have struck across the world, in countries allied with the United States, backing the war in Iraq, and in countries which had nothing whatever to do with the war in Iraq."

Britain's three major political parties reached agreement to speed action on anti-terrorism legislation that Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing, the BBC reported. It is to come before Parliament in October.

Khan reported from Karachi. Correspondent Scott Wilson in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company