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Context of 'May 27, 2004: London Imam Abu Hamza Finally Arrested in Britain'

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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

A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

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 Sun announces Abu Hamza’s arrest in typically dramatic fashion.The Sun announces Abu Hamza’s arrest in typically dramatic fashion. [Source: The Sun]Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is finally arrested by British police, who also seize documents, books and numerous audio and video tapes, at his home in London. The arrest is not due to any criminal proceedings in Britain, but because of a warrant for his extradition to the US, where he is wanted for direct personal involvement in terrorist recruitment, fundraising, and kidnapping. Abu Hamza decides to fight the extradition, but is denied bail. Abu Hamza had been at the center of Islamist radicalism in Britain for some time and had previously been arrested and released for his part in a kidnapping (see December 28-29, 1998). He informed for the security services beginning in 1997 (see Early 1997). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

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

Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri performs a property transaction while in prison awaiting trial on terrorism charges (see May 27, 2004). This is despite the fact that Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), had his assets frozen by the British government in April 2002 (see April 2002). First, Abu Hamza sells a flat in Hammersmith, London, for £228,000 (about US$410,000). He had purchased the flat from the local government for £100,000 in 1999 under legislation allowing council tenants to buy property. He then uses the money to purchase a semi-detached house for £220,000 in another part of London. At this time, Abu Hamza is using government money to pay for the costs of his legal defense, estimated to be already over £250,000 (about US$450,000), under the legal aid scheme, which provides funding to people thought to be too poor to be able to afford proper legal representation. The transaction is uncovered by investigators working for the Legal Services Commission, which administers legal aid. Conservative Party homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer says, “This is outrageous and makes an utter mockery of how the chancellor [Gordon Brown] has slipped up in dealing with terrorist financing.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 74; Times (London), 10/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick Mercer, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Legal Services Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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