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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 May, 2003, 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK
Hunt for British bomb suspect
Omar Khan Sharif
Omar Khan Sharif's picture appears on Israel's news stands

Israeli police have launched a nationwide search for a Briton they say tried to carry out a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

The face of Omar Khan Sharif, who is from Derby, is on the front of every newspaper as security forces step up the hunt for the 27-year-old.

Three people died and more than 50 were injured in the bombing at a beachside bar called Mike's Place on Tuesday.

Mr Sharif's accomplice Asif Muhammad Hanif, 21, from London, is thought to have caused the explosion by blowing himself up.

Mr Sharif is said to have escaped after failing to detonate a second device.

Condolences

On Friday, British Prime Minister Tony Blair condemned the bombing and his spokesman stressed that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims would deplore the incident.

The UK's ambassador to Israel, Sherard Cowper-Coles, who laid a wreath at the bomb site, pledged "total cooperation" between British and Israeli intelligence services.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has repeated his "sincere condolences" to relatives and friends of those killed in the "terrible" suicide bombing in Tel Aviv.

"Obviously our shock is greater because it looks as though the perpetrator and his accomplice may well have been British citizens and passport holders."

Israel says  Asif Muhammad Hanif blew himself up
The evidence that we have so far, it clearly suggests that they are British subjects
Israeli ambassador

In Derby, police guarded Mr Sharif's family home and Muslims were shocked their town was being associated with terrorist activity.

The blast came just hours after new Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas won approval for his cabinet and vowed to crack down on militants.

Israel said the suicide attack represented a "complete failure" in security for the new administration.

Although Israeli television showed British passports said to belong to the pair, the UK Foreign Office said it could not be ruled out that they were fake.

"We are not in a position to confirm the identities," one official said.

"Until the investigation is complete we are not going to be in a position to confirm whether or not they are definitely British."

Israeli ambassador to London Zvi Shtauber said they were making "every effort" to find Mr Sharif.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "According to the evidence that we have so far, it clearly suggests that they are British subjects.

"In my mind, no grievance, no claim, legitimate as it might be - and I am sure that the Palestinians have many justified claims - can justify this campaign of terror and atrocities directed only against civilians."

Minority support

A fringe radical Muslim group in Britain, Al-Muhajiroun, defended the attack.

Its UK spokesman, Anjum Choudhury, said he was not surprised the men were British as Muslims had an obligation to support Muslims in other countries in jihad or holy war.

But the Muslim Council of Britain, which says it represents more than 350 Islamic organisations and mosques in the UK, was swift to condemn Al-Muhajiroun.

Spokesman Iqbal Sacranie said Mr Choudhury's comments were inflammatory and would harm community relations in Britain.

Mahmoud Abbas

Mr Sacranie added that it was "alarming" to think that young Britons could be involved "acts of such a ghastly nature".

"Let us be absolutely clear, the loss of innocent life is against the laws of humanity," he said.

And the BBC's community affairs correspondent Barnie Choudhury said Al-Muhajiroun had "minority support".

"Its view that the suicide bomb attack in Israel was justified will be condemned by the majority of Muslims in the UK," he said.

The BBC's James Reynolds in Jerusalem said the bombing followed a familiar pattern of attacks coinciding with apparent diplomatic advances towards peace.

The explosion did not delay the publication of a peace "roadmap" by international mediators.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders are now considering the peace plan.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"Former school friends can't believe Omar Khan Sharif was involved"



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