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Context of '1997: Scotland Yard Protects Informant Imam Abu Hamza from Tough Questioning by French Investigators'

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MI5 headquarters in London.MI5 headquarters in London. [Source: Cryptome]In June and December 1996, and again in February 1997, a British MI5 agent meets with radical Muslim imam Abu Qatada, hoping he will inform on his fellow extremists. Qatada is a Jordanian national who entered Britain in September 1993 using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, and was granted asylum in 1994.
Qatada Promises to Look after British Interests - In his meetings with the MI5 agent he claims to “wield powerful, spiritual influence over the Algerian community in London.” He says he does not want London to become a center for settling Islamic scores, and that he will report anyone damaging British interests. He says the individuals he has influence over pose no threat to British security, and promises that “he would not bite the hand that fed him.” He also promises to “report anyone damaging the interests of [Britain].” The MI5 agent records that “surprisingly enough—[Abu Qatada] revealed little love of the methodology and policies pursued by Osama bin Laden. He certainly left me with the impression that he had nothing but contempt for bin Laden’s distant financing of the jihad.” [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file; Channel 4 News (London), 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/24/2004; London Times, 3/25/2004]
Links to Al-Qaeda - Yet Qatada is later described as being a “key [British] figure” in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Around 1996, a highly reliable informer told US intelligence that Qatada is on al-Qaeda’s fatwa (religious) committee (see June 1996-1997). Videos of his sermons are later discovered in the Hamburg flat used by Mohamed Atta. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is later convicted in connection with the 9/11 attacks, are alleged to have sought religious advice from him. [BBC, 8/11/2005; Guardian, 8/11/2005]
Meetings Apparently Continue - Reportedly, after Qatada’s February 1997 meeting with the British agent, no further such meetings occur. [Special Immigration Appeals Commission, 1/2004 pdf file] However, some French officials later allege that Qatada continues to be an MI5 agent, and this is what allows him to avoid arrest after 9/11 (see Early December 2001). [Observer, 2/24/2002] It will later emerge that Bisher al-Rawi, a friend of Qatada, served as an informant and a go-between MI5 and Qatada in numerous meetings between late 2001 and 2002, when Qatada is finally arrested (see Late September 2001-Summer 2002). Furthermore, al-Rawi says he served as a translator between MI5 and Qatada before 9/11, suggesting that Qatada never stopped being an informant. [Observer, 7/29/2007]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Qatada, Bisher al-Rawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

French authorities question leading Islamist radical Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), in London. However, the interview is frustrated by a Scotland Yard detective, who, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, acts “almost as Abu Hamza’s protector.” The French want to question Abu Hamza about the extremist Christopher Caze, who is said to have met Abu Hamza in Bosnia, and who was shot by police in Roubaix, France, in 1996. The French investigation thwarted a plan to attack a G7 summit, and a huge cache of arms and explosives was found, but one of Caze’s accomplices, Lionel Dumont, escaped. The British police politely tell Abu Hamza the French would like to ask him some questions, but stress that this has nothing to do with them, and that he is free to refuse to talk to the French. Abu Hamza will later say, “They told me I was a British citizen and I didn’t have to answer if I didn’t want to.” However, Abu Hamza comes to the interview, but says he does not know any of Caze’s associates and, when asked about Al Ansar, a propaganda magazine he publishes for the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, he says it is not against the law in Britain. One of the French investigators is “really upset and angry,” but Abu Hamza will later say the British detective “was very easy about it all, he said I didn’t have to answer.” In addition, “At the end of the meeting he walked with me back to my car, he was smiling and chatting and everything.” For this reason and others, French authorities come to believe that Britain is sympathetic to Islamic militancy. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 127-8]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

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 Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who informs for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells a rally of Islamist extremists in London that they should attack aircraft over London, and shows them a plan for doing so. The scheme is called the “MUSLIM ANTI-AIRCRAFT NET,” and Abu Hamza explains it to his audience with the aid of a diagram on a sheet that drops down behind him when he starts to speak. Abu Hamza sets aside his usual style of whipping his listeners up into a frenzy, instead choosing to speak “like a college professor.” He tells them that the purpose of the net “is to make the skies very high-risk for anybody who flies.” The equipment consists of a series of wire nets, held in the air by gas-filled balloons. When an aircraft is caught in the net, one of the mines attached to it explodes, destroying the aircraft. The diagram contains an image of a US fighter diving into one of the traps. Abu Hamza concludes: “This is not very clever, but it will work. Now invent your own idea and never give up.” The meeting is attended by an unnamed informer for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), who is amazed by the plan. Abu Hamza has an agreement with the British authorities that he can pursue terrorist activities abroad, but that there should be no violence in Britain (see October 1, 1997). This would appear to be a breach of the agreement, and the informer thinks that if a fellow informer for the British police is present, action must be taken against Abu Hamza. However, nothing is done against Abu Hamza over the plan, which seems not to be implemented. The meeting is also attended by Omar Bakri Mohamed, who has a deal similar to Abu Hamza’s with the British authorities (see August 22, 1998) and is head of the Al-Muhajiroun organization. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 103-105]

Entity Tags: Al-Muhajiroun, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

British authorities repeatedly reject requests submitted by Italian judge Stefano D’Ambruoso, who wants to interview leading London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. The requests are made because D’Ambruoso is surprised by how many times Abu Hamza’s name crops up in connection with terror inquiries in Italy. However, the Metropolitan Police, for which Abu Hamza works as an informer (see Early 1997), declines the requests, saying that it cannot force Abu Hamza to talk to D’Ambruoso. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107-108] The Metropolitan Police had previously hampered an interview of Abu Hamza by French authorities (see 1997). The exact timing of the requests is not known, but links between terror cells based in Milan and London are discovered in 2000-2001 (see Early 2000-2001, Between 2000 and April 2001, and June 29, 2001), so they presumably begin to be submitted at this time. Britain has a “covenant of security” with Abu Hamza and other leading radicals which allows them to encourage militant operations outside Britain (see August 22, 1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Stefano D’Ambruoso, Metropolitan Police Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Doha, a key figure in al-Qaeda’s European network, is arrested at Heathrow airport in London. He is attempting to board a plane for Saudi Arabia, but several false passports are found in his hand luggage. A search of his London flat reveals passport photographs depicting him in various disguises, 20 credit cards, a telescopic rifle sight, and what police describe as terrorism paraphernalia. He is found to be involved in various plots around the world, including a section of the Millennium Plot that comprised a bombing of Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), so the US soon asks for his extradition. He is also later said to have worked on plots to bomb the US, British, and Australian embassies in Singapore in December 2001, a planned attack on the Paris-Dakar rally in January 2000, a plot to attack the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998), and other attacks. Abu Doha was close to Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and May 1999). Abu Doha’s deputy, Rabah Kadre, is also arrested. Although he has been under surveillance by British authorities since 1998 (see 1998), he is released, apparently because British authorities think they have insufficient evidence against him. He will later leave Britain, but be arrested following his re-entry (see November 2002). The British intelligence service MI5 will later say that Kadre is “Abu Doha’s successor” as a leader of the Europe-wide network. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 117-118, 240]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Abu Doha, Rabah Kadre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abu Hamza al-Masri.Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Mustapha Melki, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Al-Qaeda, Italian Secret Service, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy.Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. [Source: BBC]The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. [CNN, 7/18/2001] No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 154]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Philip Shenon, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saad al-Fagih.Saad al-Fagih. [Source: PBS]The US and UN designate Saad al-Fagih a global terrorist, but Britain, where he lives, takes no effective action against him. Al-Fagih helped supply bin Laden with a satellite telephone used in the 1998 embassy bombings (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Britain seizes the assets of al-Fagih and his organization, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. [US Department of the Treasury, 12/21/2004; BBC, 12/24/2004] However, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal will later complain that the total seized is only ”£20 or something” (note: equivalent of about $39) and that the British government allows al-Fagih to continue to operate openly from London, despite being a specially designated global terrorist (see August 10, 2005). [London Times, 8/10/2005] Britain has long been suspected of harboring Islamic militants in return for them promising not to attack Britain (see August 22, 1998).

Entity Tags: Turki al-Faisal, Saad al-Fagih, Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia, US Department of the Treasury, United Nations

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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