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Context of '1995: Veteran London Extremist Abu Hamza Travels to Bosnia'

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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 al-Masri, who will later become a leading Islamic radical in Britain, travels to Afghanistan and, as he is a qualified civil engineer, helps with reconstruction efforts there after the Soviet withdrawal. He later receives paramilitary training at Darunta camp and loses his hands and the sight in one eye while practicing making explosives there. He is taken to Pakistan for emergency treatment, but refuses to hand over a set of passports he has to that country’s ISI intelligence agency, and flees to Britain with his family due to fears of a reprisal. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 21-29]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Darunta training camp

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri makes three trips to Bosnia to meet the mujaheddin there. Before leaving Britain, where he lives, he changes his name and travels on a passport in his new name, as he is worried about surveillance by the security services. He cannot actually fight, due to injuries suffered in Afghanistan (see 1991-Late 1993), but, after entering the country with a relief convoy, Abu Hamza spends time with groups of radical fighters, in particular those from Algeria. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 30-31]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was present in both Afghanistan and Bosnia during the wars there (see 1991-Late 1993 and 1995), is given his first regular preaching slot in Luton, a town to the north of London. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Luton gave him a base, and he launched himself like a hurricane on the Islamic circuit. Young men flocked to hear him and his reputation grew, drawing students from the Islamic societies of London universities to his Friday sermons.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 32-33]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Abu Qatada, Finsbury Park Mosque, Groupe Islamique Armé

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over as the Friday preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque, a mole working for the Algerian government is told to find out everything he can about Abu Hamza. The mole, Reda Hassaine, has been working for the Algerians against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London for some time (see Early 1995). The Algerians know that Abu Hamza met with Algerian fighters in Bosnia (see 1995), and is at the top of the GIA’s network of foreign supporters. Hassaine goes to the mosque every day and, as he and Abu Hamza have two mutual acquaintances, he is sometimes able to sit with him and listen to him speak. He does not get to know Abu Hamza well, but hears him constantly talking about jihad, killing, and life after death. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 132]

Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Reda Hassaine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The term “Londonistan” is invented by French intelligence officials at some time before 1998, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory. The term’s invention is provoked by an arrangement between the British authorities and Islamist militants sometimes known as the “covenant of security” (see August 22, 1998), whereby Britain provides a safe haven from which London-based Islamists can support violence in other countries, such as Bosnia and Chechnya (see 1995 and February 2001), but also France. O’Neill and McGrory will comment: “The prominent French judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere was so appalled by Britain’s attitude that he talked of ‘Londonistan’ as being the city of choice as a safe haven for Islamic terrorists and a place ‘full of hatred.‘… Bruguiere wondered whether Britain was just being selfish, and whether because these radical groups had not struck in [Britain] the security agencies simply did not care what they were doing. The French investigators also protested that Britain was also ignoring the systematic fraud and corruption carried out by these groups.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 104, 109]

Entity Tags: Jean-Louis Bruguiere

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]

Entity Tags: Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, UK Security Service (MI5), Daniel McGrory, Abu Qatada, Sean O’Neill, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Qatada.Abu Qatada. [Source: Reuters]British police raid the house of radical London imam Abu Qatada and find the equivalent of $250,000 in cash under his bed. Abu Qatada claims that the money is for the construction of a new mosque. However, $1,174 is in an envelope marked “for the Mujaheddin in Chechnya.” [BBC, 8/11/2005] At the time, Qatada has no money-making job and is living with a wife and four children on government benefits worth $150 a week plus other housing aid. [New York Times, 10/26/2002] Spanish intelligence has known for years that al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas has been frequently traveling to London and giving Qatada money for Chechnya that was raised in Spain (see 1995-February 2001). It is not known it the Spanish shared this intelligence with the British. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will later write, “Jihad supporters have since confirmed that Abu Qatada was known throughout Britain as a conduit for funds destined for the Chechen fighters. Some of that money had been raised—directly and indirectly—in British mosques. There were straightforward appeals for the Chechen struggle, and rather more opaque pleas for charitable donations which were then siphoned off to the militants.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 67-8] Abu Qatada has a relationship with British counterintelligence (see June 1996-February 1997 and Early December 2001).

Entity Tags: Islamic International Peacekeeping Brigade, Abu Qatada, Barakat Yarkas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After 9/11 and, in particular, after the 7/7 bombings in London (see July 7, 2005), British security officials are asked about the wide latitude granted to radical Islamists in Britain in the 1990s and after (see Before 1998). Off-the-record statements by officials emphasize that they were wrong in their assessment of Islamist radicalism, and that they should have paid more attention. For example, in a 2006 book by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, an anonymous official says: “The French would periodically bombard us with warnings and get very worked up and we decided they were over-exaggerating on Islamic extremists colonizing London. Fact is, they were right and we were wrong, and we have not stopped apologizing since. Frankly, we were not equipped to deal with this menace. For 30 years everything was geared to combating terrorists from Republican and Loyalist paramilitaries in Ireland. That danger was still with us when the French were screaming about Islamic terror cells. We did not know how to monitor these people or how to combat the threat of suicide attacks. We did not have the techniques. We missed our chance to deal with this a lot sooner than we did, but a lot of countries made the same mistake.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 109-110] Most or all of the leading radicals worked with the British security services, were informers for them (see June 1996-February 1997, Early 1997, Spring 2005-Early 2007), and were also monitored by other informers (see Summer 1996-August 1998 and (November 11, 1998)). Several attacks in countries other than Britain were assisted by radicals based in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998, 1994, Summer 1998 and After, and November 13, 2001 or Shortly Before).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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