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Context of 'March 1997: Radical Imam Abu Hamza Becomes Friday Preacher at Leading London Mosque; Soon Takes it Over'

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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

Said Chedadi.Said Chedadi. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Beginning in 1995, Barakat Yarkas, head of an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid, Spain, begins traveling frequently to Britain. Yarkas is being constantly monitored by Spanish intelligence (see 1995 and After) and they learn that his cell is raising money for the Islamist militants in Chechnya who are fighting the Russian army there. Yarkas and fellow cell member Said Chedadi solicit funds from Arab business owners in Madrid and then take the cash to radical imam Abu Qatada in London. Abu Qatada is coordinating fundraising efforts, and from June 1996 onwards, he is also working as an informant for British intelligence, although just how long and how closely he works for them is unclear (see June 1996-February 1997). [Irujo, 2005, pp. 64-65] According to a later Spanish government indictment, Yarkas makes over 20 trips from Spain to Britain roughly between 1995 and 2000. He mostly meets with Qatada and Abu Walid, who an indictment will later call Abu Qatada’s right-hand man. From 1998 onwards, Spanish militant Jamal Zougam also travels occasionally to London to meet with Qatada. Investigators later suspect he travels with Yarkas on at least one of these trips. [Independent, 11/21/2001; El Mundo (Madrid), 7/8/2005] From 1996 to 1998, an informant named Omar Nasiri informs on Abu Qatada and Walid for British intelligence (see Summer 1996-August 1998). Nasiri sometimes passes phones messages between the both of them and al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, and also reveals that Walid has been to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 265-282] Waild, a Saudi, apparently will be killed in Chechnya in 2004. [Guardian, 10/3/2006] In February 2001, British police will raid Abu Qatada’s house and find $250,000, including some marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya” (see February 2001). However, he will not be arrested, and it is not clear if he and/or Yarkas continue raising money for Chechnya after the raid. Chedadi will later be sentenced to eight years and Zougam will get life in prison for roles in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see October 31, 2007). [Agence France-Presse, 1/26/2006]

Entity Tags: Said Chedadi, Omar Nasiri, Jamal Zougam, Abu Walid, Barakat Yarkas, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was present in both Afghanistan and Bosnia during the wars there (see 1991-Late 1993 and 1995), is given his first regular preaching slot in Luton, a town to the north of London. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Luton gave him a base, and he launched himself like a hurricane on the Islamic circuit. Young men flocked to hear him and his reputation grew, drawing students from the Islamic societies of London universities to his Friday sermons.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 32-33]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

MI5 headquarters in London.MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 3/25/2004]
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. [BBC, 8/11/2005; Guardian, 8/11/2005]
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file] However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). [Observer, 2/24/2002] It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. [Observer, 7/29/2007]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Omar Nasiri, an operative who informs on groups related to al-Qaeda for the British intelligence service MI6 and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), sees Ali Touchent, a key member of the Algerian militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London. British intelligence officers follow Touchent, but lose track of him. Touchent, who is suspected of being an Algerian government agent who has penetrated the GIA, is thought to be responsible for bombings in France, one of which occurs shortly after this sighting. Nasiri sees Touchent at the Four Feathers club during a talk by a radical cleric. Although Nasiri does not initially realize the man is Touchent, he recognizes he is important and immediately informs MI6 after the talk. MI6 identifies Touchent from photographs taken of the attendees. When Nasiri asks his MI6 handler how they could have lost such an important militant leader, the handler replies: “He was at a café. Our guys were watching him. And then he somehow disappeared.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 277-278] The Guardian will later report, “Despite being publicly identified by the Algerian authorities as the European ringleader of the GIA and by French investigators as the key organizer” of the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995), “Touchent evaded capture, returned to Algeria, and settled in a secure police quarter of Algiers.” Mohammed Samraoui, a former colonel in Algerian intelligence, will later say, “French intelligence knew that Ali Touchent was [an Algerian government] operative charged with infiltrating pro-Islamist cells in foreign countries.” [Guardian, 9/8/2005] He will be sentence in absentia to ten years in prison in France in 1998, even though the Algerian government claims he was killed in 1997. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 346-347]

Entity Tags: UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Groupe Islamique Armé, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ali Touchent, Mohammed Samraoui, Omar Nasiri

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

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Finsbury Park Mosque, Groupe Islamique Armé

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), gives a lecture entitled “Holding Fast to Allah in the Land of Disbelief” explaining to his followers that they can steal from non-Muslims. The date of the lecture is not known precisely, but it is presumably after Abu Hamza takes over Finsbury Park mosque in early 1997 (see March 1997). Abu Hamza’s basic reasoning is that “the unbelievers cheated us and took it [Muslim wealth] away, but we come to take some of it back.” He says that the lives and wealth of Muslims are more valuable that that of unbelievers, and so are protected. Unbelievers’ wealth is not protected, and so can be taken. “If you can claim it [Muslim wealth] back, then do so,” he says, adding: “It is theft but it is theft from non-protected persons. It is like killing a non-protected person, there is nothing in it; it is not protected blood… We have no concern; the nation has no concern with your acts in these things. The nation of Mohammed has no concern…” In the question and answer session afterwards, Abu Hamza is asked about repayment of a student loan, and replies, “Any debts, you just take it, you just take them all and go.” Shoplifting is also permitted: “You break by force and you take it, this is OK.” However, this does not apply to Muslims who have come to Britain seeking protection, for example from religious persecution, as such people owe the country a debt of gratitude. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 70]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Charity Commission, which regulates the affairs of British charities, launches an investigation into the handling of Finsbury Park mosque by radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. The commission has power over the mosque because it is a registered charity, and launches the inquiry due to complaints from the mosque’s former trustees, who were usurped by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza in 1997 (see Early 1997 and March 1997). However, nothing much happens for several years. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Since taking over the mosque, Abu Hamza had amassed a string of unpaid bills. Yet it was not until after 9/11 that the commission took a serious look at his abuse of the mosque’s charitable status.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 286] The commission will attempt to suspend Abu Hamza in 2002 (see April 2002).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over a second mosque in London, at Stockwell in the city’s south. He already controls the large Finsbury Park mosque in north London (see March 1997) and is working with British intelligence at this time (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza also expands his operations by preaching in other towns and cities in Britain. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Like a medieval monarch, Abu Hamza wasn’t satisfied with just Finsbury Park, and wanted to expand his fiefdom. His first step was to take his roadshow around the country, poisoning other mosques with his hateful creed then leaving it to hand-picked locals and some his Supporters of Shariah hard men to complete the takeover at mosques such as that in Stockwell, south London. He roamed the country with a convoy of cars, always with an entourage of minders in tow to whip up the crowd.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 48-49]

Entity Tags: 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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