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Context of 'Fall 1998: British Informer Abu Hamza Forms Suicide Squad of Radical Islamists in London'

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Finsbury Park mosque.Finsbury Park mosque. [Source: Salim Fadhley / Public Domain]Omar Nasiri, an agent of the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6, and the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), penetrates radical Islamic circles in London, getting close to leading imams Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza (see Mid 1996-October 1997), learning about the Algerian Groupe Isamique Armé (GIA) (see November 1996), and dealing with al-Qaeda manager Abu Zubaida in Pakistan (see (Mid-1996) and (Mid-1996 and After)). Nasiri’s main task is to attend the main locations where radicals gather, Abu Qatada’s Four Feathers center and Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque, get close to senior operatives there to obtain information, and identify militants, even though the mosques, as Nasiri will later put it, are already “crawling with spies.” The British services are mostly interested in whether the radicals intend to attack in Britain, but, although they come close to inciting such attacks, they never cross the line. Nasiri will later comment: “[Abu Hamza] was inciting his followers to attack just about everywhere else, but never within England. He came very close to this line many times. He incited his followers to attack anyone who tried to claim Muslim land. He said many times that British soldiers and colonizers were fair game.” Nasiri, who previously received explosives training at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan (see Mid 1995-Spring 1996), also gets his associates in Afghanistan to send him his notebook from an explosives course and passes this on to his handlers, who are impressed at how sophisticated the formulae are. However, after a couple of years the radicals realize he is an informer. In addition, on the day of the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) he is so upset that he switches his mobile phone off for the first time since he received it, so MI5 stops trusting him. He will later write: “They must have worried that I was, in fact, a sleeper and that I had disappeared to pursue some mission. I couldn’t blame them of course. I was a trained killer. From the very beginning they hadn’t trusted me; I knew that.” He has to leave Britain and his career as an informer is practically over. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 259-303]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Abu Hamza al-Masri, Finsbury Park Mosque, Omar Nasiri, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abu Qatada

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

A group of recruits at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London, which is run by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), starts to be groomed as suicide bombers. The group includes shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001) and Saajid Badat, one of his accomplices (see (December 14, 2001)). Some of the suicide squad live in Brixton, south London, with Zacarias Moussaoui. Salam Abdullah, a radical who attends the mosque at this time, will later say, “You could tell from the way they were treated by Abu Hamza and his aides that they were marked for something special, but we didn’t know it was for suicide attacks.” Other mosque-goers do not discuss the group, and the men do not talk about their mission, but periodically disappear, presumably to go abroad for training. Some of them are foreigners, who are known only by their nicknames, and are sent to Finsbury Park from other militant centers around Britain and Europe. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “It was in north London that the suicide bombers were provided with money, documents, and the names of the contacts who would steer them to the intended targets in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, and the cities of Europe.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 89-93] In addition to being an informer for the British, Abu Hamza is himself under surveillance by numerous intelligence services, including the same British ones he works for (see Summer 1996-August 1998, (November 11, 1998), and February 1999). What the British authorities know of this squad, and whether they attempt to do anything about it is unknown.

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Sean O’Neill, Salman Abdullah, Finsbury Park Mosque, Richard C. Reid, Daniel McGrory, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Saajid Badat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London, goes to Scotland Yard and tells the British police that he has vital information for the anti-terrorist branch. Hassaine had previously informed on Islamist extremists in London for Algerian and French services, but has just been fired by the French (see Early 1995 and November 4, 1998). He speaks to two officers with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch about his work for the French, whom he had helped monitor leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri and Algerian terrorists living in London. Although most of Special Branch’s officers focus on Irish terrorism, they decide to hire Hassaine. The work is “frequently frustrating,” and only lasts for six months, after which control of Hassaine is passed to Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5 (see (May 1999)). After it is decided that Hassaine will leave the service of Special Branch and be transferred to MI5, Special Branch asks him to sign a letter saying that he is aware he will go to jail if he talks to anyone about his relationship with them, and if he is arrested by police, he will not be protected by immunity from prosecution. However, Hassaine is angry at this and refuses to sign. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 137-8]

Entity Tags: Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Reda Hassaine

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

Saajid Badat.Saajid Badat. [Source: BBC]Saajid Badat, a radical Muslim recruited to perform a shoe bombing on a transatlantic flight (see November 20, 2001), backs out of the plot. Although he already has a ticket to travel from Manchester to Amsterdam and then to the US for December 21, he sends his handler in Pakistan a short coded message saying he cannot go through with the attack. He hides the detonator and the explosive at his home, but, after his partner Richard Reid is arrested (see December 22, 2001), police will uncover Belgian telephone cards he had used to keep in touch with a local contact they had shared in Brussels, Nizar Trabelsi. The police will arrest Badat in November 2003 and in April 2005 he will be sentenced to 13 years in jail. The length of the sentence will reflect the co-operation he provides to police. [BBC News, 4/22/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 231-232]

Entity Tags: Saajid Badat, Nizar Trabelsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb. [Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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