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Context of 'October 1, 1997: MI5 Not Concerned that Leading Asset Abu Hamza Intends to Fund Terrorism Overseas'

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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

The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). After the exchange of “pleasantries,” Abu Hamza and his handler discuss his recent breach with the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, which has been indiscriminately killing civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The handler notes that “[Abu] Hamza is bowed but not broken,” and adds, “For him the jihad goes on, if not in Algeria then somewhere else.” Abu Hamza tells the MI5 officer that Britain “is seen as a place to fundraise and to propagate Islam.” Authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will later comment, “The admission that Abu Hamza and his followers were using [Britain] to raise funds to finance terrorism overseas did not seem to cause a blip on the MI5 agent’s radar.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Sean O’Niell, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) considers kidnapping Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who is an informer for two British security services in London (see Early 1997). The plan, which is never implemented, is communicated to a French informer named Reda Hassaine by a handling agent known only as “Jerome.”
Concern about World Cup - Jerome tells Hassaine: “Something has to be done. [French Interior Minister Jean Pierre] Chevenement says he cannot sleep on Thursday nights wondering what threat is going to emerge from London Algerians the next morning or what Abu Hamza is going to say in his Friday sermon. Paris is very anxious that they will threaten France again.” The French are particularly worried that there will be an attack during the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998).
Kidnap Plan - The plan is essentially to kidnap Abu Hamza in front of his home while he is only protected by his sons, bundle him into a van, and then race for a French ferry docked at one of the Channel ports. Hassaine’s role in the plan is not well-defined; he may be required as a lookout or to create a distraction.
Assistance from British Authorities - Jerome says that the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 might be prepared to turn a blind eye to the operation, but the regular British police will not help with it: “In short, if anything went wrong, all hell would break lose.” Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “The scandal could be bigger than the blowing up of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in New Zealand. But such was the level of French frustration—from the minister of the interior downwards—with the British that all options were being counternanced.”
Many Other Intelligence Services Share Concerns - The French are not the only non-British intelligence service to be concerned about Abu Hamza’s activities. Agencies from Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands all tell their British counterparts that Abu Hamza is a terror leader, but the British take no action. Egypt even offers to swap a British prisoner for Abu Hamza, but to no avail. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123, 125-126, 288]

Entity Tags: Jean Pierre Chevenement, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Reda Hassaine

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

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