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Context of 'May 27, 2004: US Indicts Radical London Imam Abu Hamza for Numerous Crimes'

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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

The ranch near Bly, Oregon.The ranch near Bly, Oregon. [Source: Seattle Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir, assistants to leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrive in the US to assess the suitability of a proposed terrorist training camp. Upon arrival, they meet up with James Ujaama, another associate of Abu Hamza who proposed the camp (see October 1999) and its owner Sami Osman. Aswat is considered a close aide to Abu Hamza, who himself is an informer for the British (see Early 1997), and will later be described as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings.
Unsuitable Facility - However, Aswat and Kassir are unhappy with what they find, especially as Ujaama does not have a key to unlock the gate to the ranch when they arrive. In addition, the ranch lacks food, running water, toilet facilities, and barracks, and only has a simple trailer on it. They stay at the ranch for about two months and conduct weapons training for around 15 militants present. According to a witness, Kassir brags that he is a “hit man” for Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and has had jihad training in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Lebanon. Jihadi videos are shown and a computer disc with details of how to improvise poisons is displayed. In addition, a scheme for poisoning a water supply is discussed, as are armed robberies, building an underground bunker to conceal weapons, and firebombing vehicles.
FBI Investigation - However, on December 13 Osman’s car is stopped due to a faulty brake light and the police officer notices that two men, who turn out to be Aswat and Kassir, are acting strangely in the car. For example, Aswat clutches a briefcase closely to his chest as the police officer questions him. The FBI previously had Osman under surveillance, but has lost him. A database check performed by the officer alerts the FBI and an agent is immediately dispatched to Bly. He shows a surveillance photo of Aswat and Kassir to the officer, who identifies them as the other two men in the car. More FBI agents arrive to investigate the ranch, but, before they can raid it, Aswat and Kassir leave for Seattle. There, Aswat allegedly boasts of being bin Laden’s “hit man,” just as Kassir has done.
Advised to Abandon Ranch - Aswat and Kassir eventually return to Britain and advise Abu Hamza against putting any further effort into the ranch. Kassir will be arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited in 2007 to stand trial. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005; Seattle Times, 8/9/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 185-186, 194; Associated Press, 9/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Sami Osman, James Ujaama, Oussama Kassir, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After being indoctrinated by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London (see 1999-2000), a recruit named Feroz Abbasi travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan for military training. On his journey to Pakistan he is accompanied by James Ujaama, who had tried to help Abu Hamza establish a militant training camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000). Before departure, Abu Hamza told Abbasi he would train with the Taliban, and that they would then expect him to fight for them, to which he agreed. After staying at an Islamic Jihad guest house in Kabul, for which Abu Hamza reportedly has the number, Abbasi undergoes basic training at Al Farooq camp, including instruction in weapons handling, battlefield maneuvers, and explosives. The camp is also visited by Osama bin Laden, who lectures the new recruits on politics. Abbasi later returns to Al Farooq for a more advanced course, covering reconnaissance, guerrilla warfare, and ambushes. After this, Abbasi, “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, and another man are interviewed by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Abbasi agrees to perform missions for Atef, which may include a suicide bombing. Abbasi then has even more advanced training, focusing on assassinations and running a sleeper cell, at a camp by Kandahar airport. At some time in September 2001, he explicitly volunteers for a suicide mission. However, he is captured by the Northern Alliance three months later. When caught, he has a grenade concealed on him and could detonate it, killing himself and the two Northern Alliance soldiers that captured him. He hesitates because he does not want to kill fellow Muslims, and the grenade is found. The Afghans then put him in prison in Kandahar for two days, before formally transferring him to the US military. He is held in a prison at Kandahar airport, and then flown to Guantanamo in Cuba, where he will be held for three years. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 201-202, 208-213]

Entity Tags: David Hicks, Al Farooq training camp, Osama bin Laden, James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Feroz Abbasi, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US officials become discouraged about anti-terrorist co-operation with their British counterparts against leading London-based cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write, “They were sick of handing over information to British agencies about Abu Hamza, only to see him being allowed to continue preaching hatred in front of the cameras.” A senior Justice Department official will say: “We just did not understand what was going on in London. We wondered to ourselves whether he was an MI5 informer, or was there some secret the British were not trusting us with? He seemed untouchable.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 294] The official’s speculation is correct, as Abu Hamza is indeed an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). In the end, the US will give up on waiting for the British to arrest Abu Hamza, and issue a warrant of their own (see May 27, 2004).

Entity Tags: 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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