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Context of 'January 20, 2003: Police Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque; Weapons and Chemical Weapons Suits Are Found'

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Reda Hassaine, an informer for the Algerian (see Early 1995), French (see Early 1997), and British (see (November 11, 1998)) security services in London, witnesses a “multitude of illegal activities” at the radical Finsbury Park mosque. However, at this time the British authorities take no action against the mosque, which is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997).
Skimming, Credit Cards - Hassaine will later say of illegal activities at the mosque: “It was going on all around you in the evenings and the afternoons. People were selling passports, stolen credit cards, and cloned credit cards. There were black boxes of the kind they used for skimming the numbers. They would recruit people who were working in petrol stations, hotels, restaurants, and give them the black boxes to collect the details from customers’ cards. Then they would use these cloned cards to buy trainers [running shoes], Levi’s 501s, [and] designer clothes which would be sold inside the mosque for cash.… If you wanted, you could buy a credit card for your own use, but it was always a gamble.… even if they were caught they were usually carrying a false identity. The police were never too bothered.”
Identity Fraud - The identity documents on sale were key: “The passport was useful because they could use it as proof of identity and then they could set up electricity, gas, or telephone accounts using a temporary address. British Telecom bills were the most useful. Then they would have proof of identity and proof of address, all that was needed to open a bank account. Using several identities they would open several bank accounts, manage them carefully for six months, keep maybe £1,000 in there, and the bank would offer them a credit card. So they would take the legitimate credit card and use it carefully for six months and the bank would offer them a loan. That’s when they strike.… [The banks] must have lost millions to people who were operating scams like that out of Finsbury Park.”
Benefit Fraud - Hassaine will add: “Those same people were all claiming income support and sub-letting rooms for which they were receiving housing benefit while living for free in the mosque itself. They had also lodged asylum claims; there were guys who set themselves up as translators and would sit in the mosque coaching people in stories of how they had been persecuted in Algeria or faced torture if they returned home. Once they got their story right they would be taken along to a friendly solicitor who would take on their asylum claim.”
'One Foot in the Mafia' - However: “And don’t believe for one minute that all this money went to the jihad. There are men who were into all these rackets at the mosque during the 1990s, who claimed to be mujaheddin but are now living happily back in Algiers in big houses and driving around in brand new Mercedes cars. The truth is that a lot of them had one foot in the mujaheddin and one foot in the mafia.”
Abu Hamza Confessed to Intelligence Handlers - Abu Hamza is never questioned about the the illegal activities, even after some of the people directly involved in it are later jailed. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “The British authorities were clearly aware that he was involved in fundraising for terrorism—not least because he confessed it to his contacts in the intelligence services.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 71-73, 290]
Britain a Fundraising Base - O’Neill and McGrory will also later highlight the importance of the funds raised in Britain for the global Islamist struggle (see March 2000-September 22, 2001): “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.”

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Charity Commission, which regulates the affairs of British charities, suspends leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri as an agent of the charity that runs London’s Finsbury Park mosque. The suspension results from a four-year inquiry into Abu Hamza’s mismanagement of the mosque (see 1998), and is apparently the first action the commission takes. However, it has no practical effect. Abu Hamza says he will appeal, but fails to file any documents for eight months. His lawyers then send a letter denouncing the commissioners for being Islamophobic. The commission will not succeed in removing Abu Hamza from his role with the charity until the next year, by which time the police have raided the mosque and closed it down (see January 20, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 286-287]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque, Charity Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohammed MeguerbaMohammed Meguerba [Source: BBC]The first traces of the alleged ricin plot later uncovered in London in January 2003 (see January 7, 2003) are discovered in the wake of the arrest of an illegal Algerian immigrant. Mohammed Meguerba, later alleged to be the mastermind of the plot, is arrested in north London with various false IDs. An epileptic, Meguerba had entered Britain as an illegal immigrant. He had left his homeland in 1995 and traveled through Europe. He became a waiter in Ireland and married, divorced, remarried and, “by pure chance or cultural void,” said Algerian secret service, “allowed himself to be recruited by fundamentalists” at a Belfast mosque in 2000. Activists in London sent him to training camps in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden himself allegedly gave him a mission in Britain and supplied him with documentation and money. [Observer, 4/17/2005] After this training, Meguerba returned to London in March 2002. He went to the Finsbury Park mosque, where he began to work on crude poisons with fellow Algerian Kamal Bourgass. On September 18, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in London during an operation into suspected terrorist fundraising. But he is released on bail after suffering an epileptic fit, and then flees to Algeria. [London Times, 5/9/2005] On December 16, 2002, Meguerba is arrested in Algeria by security forces after allegedly being smuggled in by Islamist radicals. On December 28, police begin his interrogation. Within two days, he tells them that he had been working with an al-Qaeda cell in north London and had been helping them produce poisons at a flat. Authorities in Britain receive this information from the Algerian security forces on January 2 or 3. The Algerian intelligence report spurs British authorities into action. As well as information on the poison plot, it contains information on many individuals in Britain who are allegedly engaged in hard-line, violent Islamic radicalism. The report also suggests the existence of a number of terrorist cells in Britain. [Observer, 4/17/2005] Meguerba names Bourgass as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Meguerba had been held in a secret detention center for 17 months by the Algerian security service. His relatives are unaware he had been held from December 2002 until he was moved to a prison in Algiers. When they are finally permitted to visit him, Meguerba weighs 77 lbs and claims he has been badly tortured. These claims are backed up another Algerian man, residing in Britain, who was detained in Algiers in January 2003 and placed by his interrogators in a room with Meguerba, whom the man describes as “bruised, cut, and swollen.” Upon his appearance in an Algiers court, Meguerba appears frail and is missing teeth. The confession extracted from Meguerba during this time was the evidence that led to the Wood Green raid. However, during the later trial, the confession is not relied on by the prosecution as the allegations of torture could be raised by the defense. One source says “the Government has introduced the Human Rights Act but finds itself relying on regimes with appalling human rights records for information.” Algerian secret services deny the claims of torture. [London Times, 5/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Meguerba, Al-Qaeda, Département du Renseignement et de la Sécurité, Kamal Bourgass

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Kamal Bourgass’s flat in Wood Green, north London.Kamal Bourgass’s flat in Wood Green, north London. [Source: BBC]Metropolitan Police raid a flat in Wood Green, north London, and discover a locked bag in a room occupied by an Islamist militant named Kamal Bourgass. An illegal immigrant from Algeria, Bourgass had arrived in Britain, hidden in a truck, in 2000. Using several false names, he remained in the country after failing to get asylum in December 2001, despite being fined for shoplifting in 2002 (see July 2002). [Independent, 4/17/2005] In addition, police had discovered a false passport for Bourgass in a raid on a storage depot in Wembley, north London, on June 22, 2002. [BBC, 4/13/2005]
'Kitchen Chemistry' - The bag contains an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals. These “poison recipes” are in Bourgass’s writing. The envelope has the address of the Finsbury Park mosque with the name of “Nadir,” a name which Bourgass also used. Other discoveries include a cup containing apple seeds, cherry stones, nail polish remover, and a bottle of acetone. The search also uncovers 20 castor beans and £14,000 in cash. [Observer, 4/17/2005] In addition, there are stolen bottles of mouthwash and several toothbrushes, which are still in their packaging. The packaging appears to have been tampered with, indicating the plan may have been to poison the toothbrushes and then replace them on shop shelves. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245] Police announce that they have discovered a “poisons laboratory” that contains recipes for ricin, toxic nicotine, and cyanide gas weapons. [Observer, 4/17/2005] However, a senior policeman will later be dismissive of the level of the poisons, calling what is found “garden shed, kitchen chemistry.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 245]
Other Arrests - Other flats are raided and seven North Africans are arrested. Six men are arrested on January 5 in north and east London and another man is arrested on January 8 in central London. [Fox News, 1/8/2003] The arrests include a 17-year-old. Police uncover additional poison recipes, false papers, and computer discs with bomb-making instructions.
Bourgass Murders Police Officer - Bourgass had been named as ringleader and other Algerians as co-conspirators in the alleged plot in an intelligence report passed to British officials from Algerian security forces. This report was the result of the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Meguerba (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass is not present during the Wood Green raid. However, on January 14, a raid on a flat in Crumpsall Lane, Manchester, seeking another terror suspect, uncovers Bourgass and alleged conspirator Khalid Alwerfeli. After a violent struggle, Bourgass stabs and murders policeman Stephen Oake and wounds several other police officers. [Independent, 4/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Stephen Oake, Mohammed Meguerba, Metropolitan Police Service, Kamal Bourgass, Khalid Alwerfeli

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alleged ricin ingredients.Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Martin Pearce, John Reid, Biological Weapons Identification Group, David Blunkett, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Ministry of Defence, Pat Troop

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque.Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque. [Source: BBC]The Metropolitan Police mount an early morning raid on Finsbury Park mosque, sending in 200 officers.
Decision to Launch - The raid is primarily the result of intelligence about Kamal Bourgass, a man implicated in an alleged ricin plot (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass was in possession of an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals, discovered by police during a raid in Wood Green days earlier (see January 5, 2003). These “poison recipes” were in Bourgass’s writing, and the envelope had the address of the Finsbury Park Mosque with the name of “Nadir,” an alias used by Bourgass. [Observer, 4/17/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254] Like other illegal immigrants, Bourgass had used the mosque as a place to stay and as his postal address for correspondence with the immigration service. He had stayed there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. [BBC, 2/7/2006] In addition, one of many suspects detained by the police around Britain at this time tells police that the photocopier in the mosque’s office had been used to copy some “recipes” written by Bourgass. Other suspects detained have links to the mosque, and have worked or slept there. Finally, two suspects the police want to detain are known to sleep in the mosque’s basement.
High-Level Approval - Due to the politically sensitive nature of the operation, it is approved in advance by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In the 24 hours before the raid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says publicly that many terrorists are under surveillance and Blunkett says he is happy for counterterrorist units to take “whatever steps necessary, controversial, or otherwise.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254-256]
Searches, Discoveries - Armored officers batter down the doors to begin days of searches. In addition, they make seven arrests. After the trial and conviction of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for hate crimes in February 2006, police will reveal their discoveries from the raid. The police uncover chemical weapons protection suits, pistols, CS spray, and a stun gun. Other military paraphernalia include a gas mask, handcuffs, hunting knives, and a walkie-talkie. The police also find more than 100 stolen or forged passports and identity documents, credit cards, laminating equipment, and checkbooks hidden in the ceiling and under rugs, as well as more than $6,000 in cash. A senior police officer will say, “The fact that they were happy to keep this sort of stuff in the building is an indication of how safe and secure they felt they were inside.” Authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill will comment, “This was exactly the kind of material that informants like Reda Hassaine had told the intelligence services about years before” (see 1995-April 21, 2000).
Afterwards - Despite the haul, Abu Hamza is neither arrested nor interviewed, although police believe he must have known what was going on. The items seized will not be mentioned at his trial, or, with the exception of the photocopier, the ricin trial. However, they lead to police inquiries in 26 countries, which McGrory and O’Neill will call “a clear indication of the reach and influence of the terrorist networks operating out of Finsbury Park.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 260-262; BBC, 2/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Metropolitan Police Service, Sean O’Niell, Kamal Bourgass, David Blunkett, Jack Straw, John Stevens, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Daniel McGrory, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches for the first time outside Finsbury Park mosque, which was raided and closed by police at the start of the week (see January 20, 2003). His supporters have been alerted and come to listen to him at the Friday prayer ceremony, which is also attended by two dozen policemen and a number of journalists. Abu Hamza calls the police “agents of Satan,” while Muslim leaders who have refused to join him are “monkeys in three-piece suits, stupid people, they are just a joke.” Demonstrators hold up signs saying, “British government, you will pay,” and proclaiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared “war” on British Muslims. These rallies continue every Friday for over a year, until Abu Hamza is finally arrested. The police ignore complaints from local residents, saying there are public order reasons for stewarding them and blocking off traffic. The cost to the police between January 2003 and November 2004 is £874,387 (about $1,500,000). Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will defend this cost, although critics will say it is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and Abu Hamza should be in jail. After prayers, Abu Hamza’s minders bring out a chair, and the cleric then sits in it to hear requests from individual worshippers. The sessions are videotaped by the police, who also monitor the crowd. If a person tries to hide his identity, the police follow him and photograph him when he drops his guard. The loss of the mosque hampers Abu Hamza’s operations, depriving him of its privacy and security, as well as the flow of potential recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 267-268, 278-279]

Entity Tags: John Stevens, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After London’s Finsbury Park Mosque is handed back to its trustees, associates of radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri attempt to take it back. The mosque had been controlled by Abu Hamza and his associates from 1997 (see March 1997), but it was closed following a police raid in 2003 (see January 20, 2003). As the trustees were the mosque’s original administrators, when it is allowed to reopen by the authorities, they are given theoretical control of it. However, when the trustees enter the building, they are greeted by what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will call a “reception committee” of around 40 men, led by “one of Abu Hamza’s well-known thugs.” Abu Hamnza’s men say they are taking the mosque back, but are forced to retreat by superior numbers, shouting they would rather see the mosque burn down than allow it to fall into the hands of bad Muslims. The trustees then post guards around the mosque. O’Neill and McGrory will comment, “Not for the first time in the troubled history of Finsbury Park, the Muslim community was left to combat the menace of Abu Hamza and his forces on their own, and to wonder when the authorities would make good their threat to deal with the preacher of hate.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 279]

Entity Tags: Sean O’Neill, Daniel McGrory, Finsbury Park Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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