"We have decided that the response to the crime of the assassination of Dr. Ibrahim Almakadeh should take place at the global level of the Islamic world, because of the views represented by the doctor, a supreme Islamic thinker and commander," said the military wing of Hamas, claiming responsibility yesterday for the April 2003 suicide bombing at Tel Aviv's Mike's Place, where three people were killed and dozens wounded.
The bomber at the seaside promenade music bar was a Pakistani-born British Muslim, 22-year-old Asaf Hanif of west London, who was accompanied to Israel by Omar Khan Sharif, 25, also a Pakistan-born Briton, from Derby, whose body floated ashore in Tel Aviv a few days after the bombing. He escaped from the scene of the bombing and apparently sought refuge in the sea from the police and Shin Bet search parties that went after him minutes after the bombing.
The Hamas declaration of responsibility for the event was at least externally similar to declarations of responsibility claimed by the organization for other attacks. But the content reveals what has been a mystery since the bombing - the identity of the organization that conducted the only successful terror attack inside Israel that emanated from Gaza.
More significantly, strategically, for the first time the organization presents one of its actions as part of a global Islamic struggle and for the first time, it used non-Palestinian suicide bombers.
Hamas, formally founded in 1987, has so far emphasized the local nature of its goals and character. Any attempt to tie it to Islamic organizations like al-Qaida were met by vehement denials by its spokesmen.
The declaration released yesterday says the two Britons' attack was timed for the first anniversary of the assassination of Almakadeh, the main ideological militarist of Hamas, one of its founders and the head of its military arm during a number of periods in the 1990s and current intifada. He was killed by an IDF helicopter missile attack in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of in Gaza City, which also killed three of his aides.
Hamas' declaration threatens more attacks against Israel and refers to the fence around Gaza and the fence going up in the West Bank, as "their imaginary fence meant to prevent the Jihad fighters from reaching our occupied territory inside Israel." The declaration says the fence "won't provide security and we have options to reach anywhere, at any time."
There was no official declaration of responsibility at the time of the bombing, and after the identity of the bomber and accomplice was discovered, the speculation was that al-Qaida was behind the bombing. Now the assessment is that the delay in the announcement of responsibility at the time was due to the timing of the attack - Britain was considering adding Hamas, including the political wing, to the UK's list of terror organizations - and because Hamas has not conducted any major operations lately, it wanted to send the message it could circumvent the fence around Gaza and the one going up in the West Bank. The two Britons were able to travel relatively freely between the West Bank and Gaza, through Israel at the time. Relatives of the two bombers in Britain are under arrest and awaiting trial on charges relating to the bombing. The three - the bomber's wife, brother and sister - will be the first Britons to be put on trial on the basis of the amended terror laws promulgated after 9/11 for acts of terror conducted outside British territory.
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