Israelis Worried of Outside Involvement in Homicide Bombings

The role of two Britons in a homicide bombing (search) this week has Israel worried that foreigners could become more involved in terrorist attacks -- and catapult the 2-year conflict with the Palestinians to a new level.

Wednesday's blast at the Tel Aviv (search) bar, "Mike's Place (search)," was the first suicide attack carried out by a foreigner during 31 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Police identified the attacker early Wednesday as Asif Hanif, 21, from a London suburb, and disclosed that another bomber, Omar Khan Sharif, 27, also British, had escaped after his explosive charge malfunctioned.

Hanif blew himself up outside the bar, killing a waitress and two musicians.

"The nightmare scenario has come true," military analyst Alex Fishman wrote in the Yediot Ahronot daily. "These terrorists did exactly what happened in the United States on Sept. 11."

Analysts agreed that foreign involvement in the already bloody Palestinian-Israeli conflict was a grave development, but there was little surprise.

"The international terror movement has been interested in Israel for a long time," said Yoni Fighel of Israel's International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism.

"What is new is that a British citizen has been prepared to push the button and explode," he added.

Israeli media reports on Friday quoted a senior army officer as saying that the bombing was likely planned abroad and that it was possible that the bomb also had been made in another country.

On Saturday, police in central England said they arrested five people in connection with the bombing. Two men and two women were detained on Friday in Derbyshire -- which includes Sharif's hometown of Derby -- while a third woman was picked up in nearby Nottinghamshire, British authorities said.

Scotland Yard said the suspects were charged under the Terrorism Act but did not release their names or any details of their alleged crimes.

Anat Kurz, a Tel Aviv University expert on Islamic terror, said the introduction of foreigners is a reflection of the difficulties faced by Palestinian organizations because of extensive Israeli military operations.

"It is possible that ... this is an attempt to overcome operational problems by recruiting outside help," she said.

The Tel Aviv attack was jointly claimed by the Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, associated with Yasser Arafat's Fatah party, and the violent Islamic organization Hamas.

But Fighel said Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, was likely involved.

"While there is no hard evidence, I see the patterns, and the fingerprints of Hezbollah are all over this," Fighel said.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a fierce guerrilla war for 18 years when Israel patrolled a strip of Lebanese territory, pulling out in May 2000. Hezbollah continues to call for Israel's destruction.

Violent Palestinian groups have pledged to keep up their attacks against Israel, despite a denunciation of terrorism from new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

The groups -- Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front and others -- have offices in Damascus, Syria, where some of their orders originate. The radical groups also raise money from foreign sources. However, there have been no reports of recruitment through the offices abroad.

The bomber, Hanif, spent some time in Syria. One of Hanif's former teachers in Hounslow, England, Kevin Prunty, said the young man had enrolled at Syria's University of Damascus.

Israelis also raised questions about the British connection to radical Islam.

In April 1996, a British citizen working for the Lebanese Hezbollah group was critically wounded when a bomb he was handling blew up prematurely in a Jerusalem hotel room. He was arrested and later returned to Lebanon in a prisoner exchange.

Another Briton, Richard C. Reid, who was convicted in a U.S. court in February of trying to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with a bomb planted in his shoe, had earlier passed through Israel and the Gaza Strip.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom on Thursday and expressed shock that a British citizen carried out the attack, an Israeli Foreign Ministry statement said.

Shalom called on Straw to crack down on British Muslims that incite violence and to bring those involved in the attack to justice. In the past, British anti-terrorist investigations have focused on the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and its fiery cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is fighting a deportation order.

"The British need to do more," Fighel said. "The British Islamic radicals are very active. It really stands out."