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Context of '2002-2004: 7/7 London Bombers Attend Sermons Given by Extremist Imam Abu Hamza Who Has Deal with MI5'

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Abu Hamza al-Masri (left) riding in a car with Haroon Rashid Aswat in January 1999.Abu Hamza al-Masri (left) riding in a car with Haroon Rashid Aswat in January 1999. [Source: Sunday Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat is a radical Muslim of Indian descent but born and raised in Britain. Around 1995, when he was about 21 years old, he left Britain and attended militant training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is said to have later told investigators that he once served as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. In the late 1990s, he returns to Britain and becomes a “highly public aide” to radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. Reda Hassaine, an informant for the French and British intelligence services (see After March 1997 and Late January 1999), will later recall regularly seeing Aswat at the Finsbury Park mosque where Abu Hamza preaches. Hassaine frequently sees Aswat recruiting young men to join al-Qaeda. “Inside the mosque he would sit with the new recruits telling them about life after death and the obligation of every Muslim to do the jihad against the unbelievers. All the talk was about killing in order to go to paradise and get the 72 virgins.” Aswat also shows potential recruits videos of the militants fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya. Hassaine will add: “He was always wearing Afghan or combat clothes. In the evening he offered some tea to the people who would sit with him to listen to the heroic action of the mujaheddin before joining the cleric for the finishing touch of brainwashing. The British didn’t seem to understand how dangerous these people were.” Hassaine presumably tells his British handlers about Aswat, as he is regularly reporting about activities as the mosque around this time, but the British take no action. [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be reported that Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Some of the 7/7 suicide bombers regularly attended the Finsbury Park mosque, and may have been recruited by al-Qaeda there or at another mosque in Britain. Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will later claim that Aswat in fact was working with British intelligence. He will say that in the late 1990s British intelligence was trying to get Islamist militants to fight in Kosovo against the Serbians and Aswat was part of this recruitment effort (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Reda Hassaine, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, John Loftus, Haroon Rashid Aswat

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

Lead 7/7 suicide bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan (see July 7, 2005) first attends the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London in 2002. The mosque is run by extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997). Khan and fellow suicide bomber Shehzad Tanweer first heard Abu Hamza preach in Leeds, and when Khan arrives at the mosque he is carrying a letter of recommendation from Haroon Rashid Aswat, a top aide to Abu Hamza, an alleged mastermind of the 7/7 bombings, and a possible British informant (see Late June-July 7, 2005 and July 29, 2005). Reportedly, Khan makes several visits to the mosque, sometimes sleeping in the basement. Aswat recruited young men to join al-Qaeda at Finsbury Park, at least in the late 1990s (see Late 1990s). Khan also takes Tanweer to the mosque, where, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, they are “shown gory videos and DVDs portraying the suffering and slaughter of Muslims in hotspots around the world, and [are] urged to make common cause with the people of Chechnya, Iraq, and Afghanistan.” O’Neill and McGrory will later comment: “Instructors at Finsbury Park would have spotted that in Khan they had a small-time street boss who was an ideal candidate to organize his own cell.” Khan, Tanweer, and a third bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, will also attend gatherings led by Abu Hamza outside the mosque after it is closed by police (see January 24, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. xix-xx, 190, 269, 271-272]

Entity Tags: Shehzad Tanweer, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Finsbury Park Mosque, Germaine Lindsay, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Haroon Rashid Aswat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches for the first time outside Finsbury Park mosque, which was raided and closed by police at the start of the week (see January 20, 2003). His supporters have been alerted and come to listen to him at the Friday prayer ceremony, which is also attended by two dozen policemen and a number of journalists. Abu Hamza calls the police “agents of Satan,” while Muslim leaders who have refused to join him are “monkeys in three-piece suits, stupid people, they are just a joke.” Demonstrators hold up signs saying, “British government, you will pay,” and proclaiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared “war” on British Muslims. These rallies continue every Friday for over a year, until Abu Hamza is finally arrested. The police ignore complaints from local residents, saying there are public order reasons for stewarding them and blocking off traffic. The cost to the police between January 2003 and November 2004 is £874,387 (about $1,500,000). Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will defend this cost, although critics will say it is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and Abu Hamza should be in jail. After prayers, Abu Hamza’s minders bring out a chair, and the cleric then sits in it to hear requests from individual worshippers. The sessions are videotaped by the police, who also monitor the crowd. If a person tries to hide his identity, the police follow him and photograph him when he drops his guard. The loss of the mosque hampers Abu Hamza’s operations, depriving him of its privacy and security, as well as the flow of potential recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 267-268, 278-279]

Entity Tags: John Stevens, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Haroon Rashid Aswat.Haroon Rashid Aswat. [Source: John Cobb]According to an article in the London Times, Haroon Rashid Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings. Aswat’s family comes from India, but he was born in the same West Yorkshire town as one of the 7/7 suicide bombers and has British citizenship. He is said to be a long-time al-Qaeda operative and also the right-hand man of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. He arrives in Britain about two weeks before the bombings from South Africa, where he was being monitored by British and US intelligence. He orchestrates the final planning for the bombing, visiting the towns of all the bombers as well as the bomb targets. “Intelligence sources” also will later claim that there are records of up to twenty calls between Aswat and two of the bombers, lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and his friend Shehzad Tanweer, in the days before the bombings. A senior Pakistani security source will tell the Times, “We believe this man had a crucial part to play in what happened in London.” Khan telephones Aswat on the morning of the bombings. He flies out of Britain just hours before the bombings take place. Pakistani officials will also say that a total of eight men in Pakistan were in telephone contact with Khan and Tanweer, and that Khan, Tanweer, and Aswat were all at the same madrassa (religious boarding school) at the same time when Khan and Tanweer went to Pakistan for training in late 2004. [London Times, 7/21/2005] A later Sunday Times article will confirm that Aswat and some of the bombers talked on the phone. Some of the cell phones used by the bombers will be found and some data will be recovered from them, even though they are badly damaged. This will confirm that at least several calls were made from Aswat’s phone to the bombers in the days before the bombing. British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” There is speculation that US intelligence may have been monitoring the calls (see Shortly Before July 7, 2005). [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be alleged that Aswat is an informant for British intelligence. Furthermore, the imam he has worked for, Abu Hazma, is also a British informant (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Haroon Rashid Aswat, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005.The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005. [Source: Scotland Yard]England suffers its worst terrorist attack when four bombs go off in London during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m. bombs go off on three London Underground trains within 50 seconds of each other. A fourth bomb goes off at 9:47 a.m. on a double-decker bus, near Tavistock Square. Fifty-six people, including the four bombers, are killed. The bombings become popularly known as ‘7/7.’ [Daily Telegraph, 7/7/2005; Daily Mail, 7/8/2005; CNN, 7/22/2005] The alleged bombers, all British residents between the ages of 18 and 30, are Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay. All were British nationals of Pakistani descent, except Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, but moved to England when he was five. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2005; BBC, 7/21/2005] In 2004, Khan had been the subject of a routine threat assessment by the British intelligence agency MI5, after his name came up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London. However, MI5 did not consider him a threat and did not place him under surveillance. [BBC, 7/17/2005; London Times, 7/17/2005] According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. [Independent, 12/17/2005] Khan and Tanweer had flown to Pakistan together in November 2004, returning together in February 2005. However, what they did during their stay is unclear. [BBC, 7/18/2005; CNN, 7/20/2005] Less than a month before the bombings, the British government lowered its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe general” to “substantial,” prompted by a confidential report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC, which is made up of 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials, concluded, “At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack [Britain]” (see Mid-June 2005). [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 7/19/2005] The attacks also coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush, amongst others. [Guardian, 7/7/2005] Consequently, 1,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police, including many anti-terrorist specialists, are away in Scotland as part of the force of 12,000 created to police the event. [Press Association (London), 7/7/2005; London Times, 7/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. John Loftus (right) is asked a question from an audience member while on Fox News on July 29, 2005. [Source: Fox News]In an interview on Fox News, counterterrorism expert John Loftus claims that Haroon Rashid Aswat, named in recent reports as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), is actually an agent of the British intelligence agency MI6. Loftus says: “[W]hat’s really embarrassing is that the entire British police are out chasing [Aswat], and one wing of the British government, MI6 or the British Secret Service, has been hiding him. And this has been a real source of contention between the CIA, the Justice Department, and Britain.… He’s a double agent.” The interviewer clarifies, “So he’s working for the Brits to try to give them information about al-Qaeda, but in reality he’s still an al-Qaeda operative.” Loftus replies: “Yeah. The CIA and the Israelis all accused MI6 of letting all these terrorists live in London not because they’re getting al-Qaeda information, but for appeasement. It was one of those you leave us alone, we leave you alone kind of things.” Loftus then explains that Aswat has been wanted by US prosecutors in Seattle since 2002 for attempting to help set up a training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). “[W]e’ve just learned that the headquarters of the US Justice Department ordered the Seattle prosecutors not to touch Aswat [because] apparently Aswat was working for British intelligence. Now Aswat’s boss, the one-armed [London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri], he gets indicted two years later. So the guy above him and below him get indicted, but not Aswat. Now there’s a split of opinion within US intelligence. Some people say that the British intelligence fibbed to us. They told us that Aswat was dead, and that’s why the New York group dropped the case. That’s not what most of the Justice Department thinks. They think that it was just again covering up for this very publicly affiliated guy with [the British militant group] Al-Muhajiroun. He was a British intelligence plant. So all of a sudden he disappears. He’s in South Africa. We think he’s dead; we don’t know he’s down there. Last month the South African Secret Service come across the guy. He’s alive.” The host asks: “Yeah, now the CIA says, oh he’s alive. Our CIA says OK let’s arrest him. But the Brits say no again?” Loftus replies: “The Brits say no. Now at this point, two weeks ago, the Brits know that the CIA wants to get a hold of Haroon. So what happens? He takes off again, goes right to London. He isn’t arrested when he lands, he isn’t arrested when he leaves. [Even though] he’s on the watch list. The only reason he could get away with that was if he was working for British intelligence. He was a wanted man.” Loftus finally explains that Aswat’s relationship with British intelligence began in the late 1990s with the war in Kosovo. The US, Britain, and radical Muslims were all on the same side, helping the Muslims in Kosovo fight the Serbians. Loftus says that Al-Muhajiroun was involved in recruiting British Muslims to fight in Kosovo, and Aswat was part of that effort. [Fox News, 7/29/2005] Two days after Loftus’s comments, the Sunday Times reports that senior British officials “deny ‘any knowledge’ that he might be an agent for either MI5 or MI6.” [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Muhajiroun, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Abu Hamza al-Masri, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), John Loftus

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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