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Context of 'April 2003: British Home Secretary Campaigns to Strip Leading Islamist Radical Abu Hamza of Citizenship'

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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

In 2002, federal prosecutors are building a case against a group of Islamist militants for attempting to start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). They prepare charges against radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, his “highly public aide” Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir (who visited the prospective camp with Aswat), and James Ujaama. Ujaama is living in Seattle, but the others are believed to be overseas. Seattle prosecutors want to seek a grand jury indictment against all of them, which would result in arrest warrants and possible detention for extradition. However, this plan is blocked by higher-level officials at Justice Department headquarters, who want most of the case to be handled by the US Attorney’s Office in New York City. Seattle prosecutors are only allowed to bring charges against Ujaama. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] They go ahead and arrest Ujaama in August 2002, finding weapons and training materials, and charge him with conspiring with Abu Hamza “to provide material support and resources” to the Taliban. One of his associates, Feroz Abbasi, is already in Guantanamo Bay, and is talking to interrogators about trips Ujaama has made to Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001). Ujaama quickly agrees to co-operate with the authorities, giving them details about Abu Hamza’s activities, and is given a two-year sentence for a lesser offence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 189-190, 198-200] The others are merely listed in Ujaama’s indictment as unindicted co-conspirators. Abu Hamza has actually been working as an informant for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but by early 2004 his relationship with the British has soured (see April 2003 and April 26, 2004), and the US Justice Department will finally indict him for charges relating to the training camp in May 2004. However, Aswat still will not be indicted. When asked why Aswat is not indicted as well, a federal official in Seattle will reply with frustration, “That’s a great question.” [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), it will be widely reported that Aswat was the attack’s mastermind (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Then a counterterrorism expert will claim that Aswat was also an informant for British intelligence, and this explains why the US never indicted him and other mysteries surrounding him (see July 29, 2005).

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003.Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003. [Source: Daily Telegraph]After learning some information about the Islamist militant connections of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, British Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a campaign against him. Blunkett introduces legislation to have Abu Hamza stripped of his British citizenship, which he acquired unlawfully (see April 29, 1986), and then either deported or interned. However, the British intelligence service MI5 fails to provide Blunkett with all the information it has about Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for MI5 and Special Branch since 1997 (see Early 1997 and Before May 27, 2004). Even after the relevant legislation is passed in April 2003, the process is drawn out by Abu Hamza, who appeals, delays the appeal process by not filing a defense, and then argues the government should pay his legal fees. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284-5] A hearing will be held on the case in April 2004 (see April 26, 2004).

Entity Tags: David Blunkett, Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri.Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: Toby Melville / Reuters]In proceedings to revoke the British citizenship of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see April 2003), the British government submits evidence linking him to five established terrorist organizations at a tribunal hearing. Abu Hamza, who has informed for the British intelligence services MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997), is said to be linked to:
bullet The Islamic Army of Aden, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen;
bullet The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA);
bullet Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and then merged into al-Qaeda;
bullet A Kashmiri group later involved in the London bombings; and
bullet Al-Qaeda.
Given the nature of the allegations, authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “If the intelligence agencies already had a dossier like this, why was the cleric not in [court], instead of arguing about whether he could hang onto his British passport.” The hearing is adjourned until January 2005 so that Abu Hamza can ask the government to fund his defense. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 285] He will be arrested one month later because of a US extradition request (see May 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The British intelligence service MI5 develops information showing that London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has significant connections with radical militants, but fails to show this to Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett apparently learns this information after Abu Hamza, who has been an MI5 informer (see Early 1997), is arrested in 2004 (see May 27, 2004). When Blunkett takes office in 2001, as he will later recall, there is an assumption that Abu Hamza “was a bigmouth and was worth tracking but wasn’t at the centre of events.” The security services have a “detailed trail” of networks, personal history, and high-level contacts showing that Abu Hamza is “a real threat and a danger,” but they do not tell Blunkett. He will reportedly be angry when he learns MI5 failed to inform him of the material. What material is provided to Blunkett and what is kept from him is unknown; MI5’s explanation for withholding the information is also unknown. Blunkett will later indicate that action should have been taken against Abu Hamza earlier: “It is clear now—and I think that those close to this would acknowledge it—that there were opportunities for having taken action. By putting the jigsaw together, it is possible for us to realize that this man was a danger becuase he was at the heart of organizing, glorifying, and persuading.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284, 291]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Security Service (MI5), David Blunkett

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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