Mystery of the failed suicide attacker found dead in the sea

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The Independent Online

The body of a man spotted floating off the coast in Tel Aviv was Omar Khan Sharif, the British Muslim involved in a suicide attack on a nearby bar two weeks ago, Israeli police confirmed yesterday.

The decomposed corpse was identified using DNA from Britain, ending a lengthy search for the suspected bomber but providing few clues about how he died.

Sharif, a radical Islamist from Derby, carried out the mission with another British citizen, Asif Mohammed Hanif, who blew himself up, killing three Israelis and wounding 50 outside Mike's Place, a bar, on 30 April. Sharif, 27, is believed to have fled after his bomb failed to detonate.Dr Yehuda Hiss, head of Israel's Institute of Forensic Medicine, gave the cause of death as drowning.

Israeli security services are keeping details of their investigation secret but there has been no shortage of speculation among security officials. One theory is that Sharif ran into the sea to escape after he failed in the bombing mission and was swept away.

Others believe he may have been drowned by his accomplices to prevent him revealing details of the network that brought him from London and the Palestinian contacts he made in the process. Another suggestion is that he could not face the humiliation of a failed mission and took his own life.

Radical Islamists in Sharif's home town have yet another hunch ­ they believe he was murdered by the Israeli security forces. Sharif and Hanif were known to MI5 before they set off on their suicide mission. Sharif was a member of the radical Islamist group al-Muhajiroun and had links to the controversial Finsbury Park mosque in north London.

Hanif, a former Heathrow airport worker from west London, had similar contacts. Posing as tourists, they slipped into Israel from Jordan and headed for Gaza. Shaul Mofaz, Israel's Defence Minister, said they smuggled plastic explosives in the pages of a Koran.

In Gaza they met Hamas militants and attended a meeting of the International Solidarity Movement, a peaceful protest group. The pair crossed back into Israel hours before they hit their target, a bar on the Tel Aviv waterfront close to the US embassy and popular among English speakers.

While Hanif's bomb detonated, Sharif's failed and he was left struggling with the crowd, dropping his passport. Twelve days later a body was spotted floating 500 metres out to sea not far from Mike's Place. An Israeli police spokesman said: "Our guys hauled it out of the water. It was so badly decomposed that you couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman."

Three of Sharif's relatives were arrested in England after the bombing. An Old Bailey judge released two last week ­ Sharif's wife, Tahira Tabassum, 27, and his brother, Zahid Hussain Sharif, 46 ­ on bail. His sister, Parveef Sharif, 35, was remanded in custody.

Police said no decision had been taken about where Sharif would be buried. His family has not requested the return of his body to Britain.