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Context of 'January 11-February 7, 2006: Radical London Imam Abu Hamza Finally Tried and Convicted in Britain'

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Abu Hamza al-Masri, a future leader of the Islamist movement in Britain (see March 1997) who will have a long relationship with Britain’s security services (see Early 1997) and will be convicted on terrorism charges (see January 11-February 7, 2006), fraudulently obtains British citizenship and swears allegiance to the Queen. However, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, “he could have been deported from Britain as an illegal immigrant and a fraudster long before he caused the trouble that he went on to stir up.” For example:
bullet When he first arrived in Britain in July 1979, he found a job in contravention of his one-month visitor’s visa. He also breached the terms of subsequent visas by working;
bullet He stopped renewing his visa and became an illegal immigrant, doing casual work for cash-in-hand;
bullet When he married Valerie Traverso, a pregnant single mother of three, in May 1980, she was still married to her first husband and the marriage to Abu Hamza was therefore bigamous;
bullet When Traverso gave birth to a child fathered by her real, but estranged, husband four months later, Abu Hamza falsely registered himself as the father.
Abu Hamza was able to obtain leave to stay in Britain based on the illegal marriage and fraudulent birth certificate, even though he was arrested in a raid on the porn cinema where he worked as a bouncer and identified as an illegal immigrant. The leave to stay is later made indefinite, and he obtains citizenship seven years after arriving in Britain. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 4-13]

Entity Tags: Sean O’Neill, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Special Branch (Britain)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri edits the Al Ansar newsletter published for the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), a radical faction engaged in a bitter civil war with the Algerian government. It is unclear when Abu Hamza starts editing the publication, but it was previously edited by Abu Qatada, another leading radical London imam who broke with the GIA in the summer of 1996, so Abu Hamza may have started editing it then (see January 5, 1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). It was also previously edited by Rachid Ramda, a suspect in bombings in France, and was reportedly financed by Osama bin Laden (see 1994). In the mid-1990s, the GIA commits a series of massacres of the civilian population in Algeria, apparently due to a change of the organization’s direction initiated by an Algerian government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Abu Hamza, himself an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), initially supports the GIA despite the massacres, although other senior Islamists such as bin Laden and Abu Qatada break with the group over the issue (see Mid-1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). However, by the fall of 1997 worshippers at Finsbury park mosque in London, where Abu Hamza preaches, are so angry that he is forced to stop editing Al Ansar and sever his ties with the organization. What happens to Al Ansar after this is not known, but it presumably fades in importance as the GIA declines in importance as well. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 43]

Entity Tags: Groupe Islamique Armé, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US indicts leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, shortly after his arrest in Britian (see May 27, 2004). Abu Hamza is indicted on eleven counts, covering his part in a kidnapping scheme in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998), the recruitment of a radical named Feroz Abbasi to attend a training camp in Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001), and a conspiracy to open a jihad training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000).
Alleged Contact with High-Ranking al-Qaeda Terrorists - At the extradition hearing, the lawyer acting for the US describes Abu Hamza as having “engaged in a systematic pattern of terrorist activity since at least 1998….” The lawyer also points out: “He is no less than a supporter and facilitator of terrorism. He has been in contact with and provided support for terrorist groups and people associated with terrorist groups… He has had contact with high-ranking terrorists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Abu Hamza declines to go to the US voluntarily and decides to fight the extradition request.
Indictment Is Media Event - The arrest and indictment is major news in the US and television programming is interrupted for a live press conference by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “The Americans were jubilant, so much so that they insisted that daytime soap operas were interrupted to carry live television coverage of a press conference hosted by John Ashcroft, then Attorney General in the Bush administration. Ashcroft was joined on the platform by a crowd of smiling deputies, federal prosecutors, FBI officials and police chiefs. Just in case the public did not grasp the message, there was a huge portrait of Abu Hamza alongside them, caught in mid-rant, his one eye glaring, the steel hook raised.” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray calls Abu Hamza “a terrorist facilitator with a global reach,” and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says, “Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 282-5]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory, Raymond Kelly, Sean O’Neill, Christopher Wray

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is again arrested. He is already in prison, but this is because he is awaiting proceedings on his extradition to the US, where he faces criminal charges (see May 27, 2004 and May 27, 2004). However, the British government decides it would look bad for Britain to hand over Abu Hamza for prosecution in the US for crimes committed in Britain. Therefore, the British want to try Abu Hamza at home, and the police are instructed, in the words of authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, to “build a case, and do it swiftly.” The police decide to use tapes of Abu Hamza preaching that they seized from his home in 1999 (see March 15-19, 1999) but later returned to him (see December 1999), as they now decide the tapes show Abu Hamza making inflammatory statements that reach the level of incitement to racial hatred and soliciting to murder. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “America wanted to put Abu Hamza on trial for recruiting, financing, and directing terrorism, charges that could see him jailed for up to a hundred years. But British prosecutors chose to intervene and to accuse him of lesser offences, mostly under a century-and-a-half-old Victorian statute. The central charge was that he had crossed the boundaries of freedom of expression—the criminal equivalent of ignoring the park keeper’s ‘Keep off the grass’ sign. Somehow Britain managed to make it look as if Abu Hamza was getting off lightly again.” Abu Hamza will be charged with the offences two months later, and will be convicted in 2006 (see January 11-February 7, 2006). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 295]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is put on trial in Britain. Before the jury was sworn in, the defense had tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Abu Hamza’s notoriety was such that no jury could possibly approach the evidently impartially. However, these arguments were dismissed by the judge, Sir Anthony Hughes.
Charges of Murder, Racial Incitement - The charges include nine counts of soliciting to murder; three for encouraging followers to murder Jews, and six for encouraging them to murder “a person or persons that did not believe in the Islamic faith.” Four other counts are for using “threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior with intent to stir up racial hatred.” These charges are based on videos confiscated from Abu Hamza in which, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he rages “against the decadent West, the treacherousness of Jews, the waywardness of women, the accursedness of homosexuals, the corruption of Muslim rulers, and the idleness of ordinary Muslims who had not yet gone to wage war for Allah.” The other two charges deal with his possession of the tapes themselves, and of an 11-volume encyclopedia of jihad.
Encyclopaedia of Jihad - The charge sheet describes the encyclopedia as “a document which contained information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” and the prosecutor describes it as “a manual, a blueprint for terrorism.… It contains anything anyone would ever need to know if they wanted to make home-made bombs or explosives.”
Disapproval of Court - Abu Hamza demonstrates his disapproval of the court in two ways: when he takes the witness stand he swears a secular oath, refusing to use the Koran in an infidel court; and he also refuses to stand at the end of each day as the judge departs. Even if he were to be acquitted, he would probably not be released, as deportation proceedings to the US have only been suspended because of the trial. An acquittal would also lead to renewed attempts by the British government to strip him of his British citizenship.
Koran Defense - Abu Hamza’s defense is that he was merely interpreting certain verses from the Koran, which, according to his lawyer, contains “the language of blood and retribution.” He alleges that simply reminding his listeners of these verses cannot be incitement to murder, and that his statements should be viewed against the context of events in the 1990s, when Muslim were under pressure in Kosovo, Kashmir, and Palestine.
Hamza's Testimony - Abu Hamza himself is put on the witness stand for five days from January 19, but, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he treats it “as if it were a pulpit,” reciting Koranic verses and trying to dictate the direction of the discussion. Some of the things he says are damaging to him, for example he thinks the Jews control the media and banks, as well as having a hold over Western political leaders. He admits running a newsletter for Algerian radicals and being in constant telephone contact with their leaders (see Before October 1997), but claims he never actually read the encyclopedia of jihad because he is not a military man. He also says he had no idea that tapes of his sermons were being sold around Britain, nor can he recall the places he has preached up and down the country. He was an informer for MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997) and told them about his preaching. They said it was okay, so he simply carried on with it.
Hamza Convicted - He is convicted on 11 counts and acquitted on four, three of soliciting to murder, and one of inciting racial hatred. He gets seven years’ imprisonment for each of the six counts of soliciting murder, 21 months each for the three charges of inciting racial hatred, three years for possessing the tapes, and three and a half years for possessing the encyclopaedia. However, these sentences will run concurrently, meaning he will only be in jail for seven years. US authorities say that after he is released they may request his extradition to the US for crimes he is wanted for there (see May 27, 2004). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168-169, 296-313]

Entity Tags: Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Anthony Hughes, Sean O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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