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Context of 'Late January 1999: London Police Show Increased Interest in Finsbury Park Mosque'

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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

Zacarias Moussaoui meets future shoe bomber Richard Reid at a south London mosque. Moussaoui, who will be arrested in the US shortly before 9/11 for raising suspicions at flight school, is the leader of the radical faction at the mosque and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, Reid “hero-worship[s]” him. Moussaoui also “dominate[s] discussion groups…, shouting down those who dare[…] to criticize his stand that violent jihad [is] the only way to support Islamic communities around the world.” When the moderates at the mosque get together to criticize him, he moves to a more radical mosque, Finsbury Park, where he falls under surveillance by the British authorities (see March 1997-April 2000). Reid goes with him, and by this time he is “mouthing the same radical expressions and insults about America and Tony Blair as his shaven-headed hero.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 219]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid

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

Reda Hassaine.Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an Algerian journalist who informs for a number of intelligence services, including an Algerian service, the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), and the British Special Branch and MI5, helps intelligence agencies track Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid. One place Hassaine sees Moussaoui and Reid is the Four Feathers club, where leading Islamist cleric Abu Qatada preaches. [Evening Standard, 1/28/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] Hassaine also sees Moussaoui, Reid, and Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas at the Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque, a hotbed of Islamic extremism headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri, is the center of attention for many intelligence agencies. Hassaine does not realize how important these people will later become at this time, but recognizes their faces when they become famous after 9/11. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] British intelligence also monitor phone calls between Moussaoui and Reid in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).

Entity Tags: Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Barakat Yarkas, Zacarias Moussaoui, UK Security Service (MI5), Special Branch (Britain), Abu Hamza al-Masri, Richard C. Reid, Reda Hassaine, Abu Qatada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 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

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), concludes an agreement with Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the Yemen-based Islamic Army of Aden, who he had met in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Abu Hamza sends followers for low-key militant training in Britain (see (Mid-1997) and (1998)), but this training consists of little more than survival courses and he needs a location where firearms can be used more freely. Therefore, Almihdhar agrees to provide training in Yemen, at a cost of £1,200 (about $1,800) per group of trainees. In return, Abu Hamza agrees to act as his press spokesman, and gives him a satellite phone costing £2,000 (about $3,200). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later describe the training: “The climate was brutal, the food inedible, and most of [the British recruits] complained that they missed their computer games and creature comforts. They got to ride horses, fire off several rounds of ammunition from an automatic rifle, and were instructed how to rig explosive devices by men who had fought in Afghanistan. They were also taught what else they would need to do to kill hundreds of innocents in an attack planned for Christmas day.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 157-158, 162, 164-165] A group of Abu Hamza’s supporters who travel to Yemen for militant training with Almihdhar will later be arrested by police (see December 23, 1998) and Abu Hamza and Almihdhar will talk on the satellite phone during a kidnapping organized to engineer their release (see December 28-29, 1998).

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of six young men are arrested in Yemen, where they are alleged to have been planning a series of bombings. Five of the men are British. They include Mohsin Ghalain, the stepson of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical cleric in Britain and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), and Shahid Butt, Abu Hamza’s “six-foot four-inch enforcer.” The men are members of the militant Supporters of Sharia organization run by Abu Hamza and are in Yemen to work with the Islamic Army of Aden, a local radical organization and al-Qaeda affiliate.
Arrest Merely a Coincidence - The Yemeni government will say that they are arrested purely by coincidence, after the police notice a group of them committing a minor traffic violation. When their vehicle is found and searched following a chase, a cache of weapons and explosives is found in it.
Skepticism about Yemeni Claim - However, author Mary Quin will later comment: “Several aspects of the story about how the Britons were apprehended did not ring true. Having spent a week on Yemeni roads myself, it seemed highly unlikely that a police officer would bother to pull over a vehicle at midnight for something as mundane as going the wrong way around a traffic island.… The fact that the car happened to be stashed with weapons and explosives seemed too much of a coincidence. I was also suspicious of the reported speed with which the police located the two hotels where the defendants were staying.”
Informant Tip? - Instead, Quin will speculate that the Yemeni authorities were tipped off by an informer, Hetam bin Farid, who will later go on to command the Islamic Army of Aden (see (December 30, 1998-October 31, 1999)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will also say that the timing of the arrests “suggest[s] that Yemeni intelligence services had prior warning of the bomb plot.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 103-4, 116; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 176, 178-179]

Entity Tags: Supporters of Sharia, Islamic Army of Aden, Hetam bin Farid, Mohsin Ghalain, Shahid Butt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, who will later head the Yemeni navy and be Yemen’s ambassador to Syria, men from the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) meet with Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, half-brother of Yemen’s president Ali Abdallah Saleh. Al-Ahmar helped recruit Islamist radicals to fight in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War (see 1980-1990) and allegedly later received a payment from Osama bin Laden to help settle Afghan Arabs in Yemen (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The meeting follows the breaking up of an IAA plot to attack targets in Aden (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), and comes two days before the IAA takes Western hostages in an attempt to obtain the release of six recently arrested IAA operatives (see December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani will say, “Two days before the killings, members of the terrorist group were in al-Ahmar’s house in Sana’a,” the capital of Yemen. “They were also in telephone contact with Sana’a just before the shootings.” [Sunday Times (London), 5/8/2005] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write that during the kidnapping, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar “bark[s] out his demands for a prisoner swap over the telephone to a half-brother of Yemen’s President Saleh, among others.” Presumably, this half-brother is al-Ahmar. In addition, on the last day of the kidnapping Almihdhar tells a local dignitary, “We have contacts at the highest level and we are expecting a response from them at noon.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160] Exactly what al-Ahmar knows of the kidnapping in advance, if anything, is unclear.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), telephones Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London-based imam and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). Six operatives sent by Abu Hamza to Yemen for training had become involved in a bomb plot, but were arrested four days ago (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar makes two calls to Abu Hamza, and tells him of the capture of the operatives, who include Abu Hamza’s stepson and former bodyguard. The two men apparently come up with a plan to capture some Western tourists, and Abu Hamza purchases more airtime worth £500 (about $800) for Almihdhar’s satellite phone. After the tourists are captured the next day (see December 28-29, 1998), Almihdhar will immediately telephone Abu Hamza and, according to one of the tourists’ drivers, say, “We’ve got the goods that were ordered, 16 cartons marked Britain and America.” This is not the only telephone contact between the two men, and authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will add, “What was apparent from the first hours of the hostage crisis was that the short-tempered [Almihdhar] needed the advice and reassurance of his spokesman in North London.” The calls are intercepted by the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s wiretapping agency, using a base in Cyprus. Although the communications cannot be used in court under British law, they are useful to the intelligence services in determining what is going on between Almihdhar and Abu Hamza. However, the intercepts are also shared with the FBI, which will later indicate it may use them in a US prosecution of Abu Hamza stemming from the fact that two of the kidnap victims are American nationals. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 156-157, 161, 180]

Entity Tags: Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Government Communications Headquarters, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A group of 20 people, including 16 western tourists, are kidnapped in southern Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate. In return for releasing the hostages, IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar demands the release of six IAA operatives arrested a few days earlier (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar also makes further demands, including the release of more prisoners, an end to the US-led bombing of Iraq, and a change of government in Yemen. Knowing that it will be unable to meet all these demands and worried Almihdhar will carry out his threat to start executing the hostages, the day after the kidnapping the Yemen government sends in the army to rescue them, but four hostages die during the fighting. [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1] Three of the militants are killed, and seven, including Almihdhar, are captured. However, some escape. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168]
Motive - Hostage Mary Quin, who will write a book about the kidnapping, will later conclude that fear for the hostages’ safety is not the only motive for the attack by the army and that it is also a product of the government’s policy of attacking the IAA where possible. Yemen’s deputy foreign minister will comment: “We are not tolerating these groups. What happened in Abyan [where the hostages were held] was a reaction to a crackdown on these people.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Before and during the kidnapping, Almihdhar is in contact with the IAA’s spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri, in London, using a satellite phone Abu Hamza provided him with. One of the six operatives Almihdhar wants the government to release is Abu Hamza’s stepson. Almihdhar will be sentenced to death for his role, and most of the other kidnappers are also caught and punished (see October 17, 1999). The Yemen government later asks for the extradition of Abu Hamza, who has a relationship with British intelligence (see Early 1997), but the British government refuses (see January 1999). [Quin, 2005, pp. 31-62, 83, 126-7, 155-6, 200-1]
Relative of 9/11 Hijacker? - It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, the head of the Islamic Army of Aden, is captured in a failed hostage-taking operation (see December 28-29, 1998), one of his lieutenants, Hetam bin Farid, becomes its de-facto leader. However, bin Farid is arrested shortly after Almihdhar is executed (see October 17, 1999). At his trial, bin Farid will claim to be a police informer, although the judge will not accept this argument and will sentence him to seven years in prison. Bin Farid was involved in a plot to bomb targets in Yemen (see December 23, 1998), which was broken up by the police. Author Mary Quin, who will investigate the plot, will say that she does not believe the police’s account of the chance discovery of the plotters’ weapons, and speculate that bin Farid may have been telling the truth when he claimed to be an informer. [Quin, 2005, pp. 116, 127]

Entity Tags: Hetam bin Farid, Mary Quin, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yemen asks Britain to hand over militant cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is wanted in connection with crimes committed by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 23, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] Although Abu Hamza has not yet been formally charged with a role in the plot, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh complains that he has been “planning and financing sabotage and bombings in Yemen.” Saleh also writes a personal letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair asking him to send the cleric to Yemen for trial. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164, 172, 177] However, Britain says that it has not received a formal request for extradition. Author Mary Quin will later comment, “Since no extradition treaty exists between Yemen and Britain, it is unlikely that a formal request would have been made—but very likely that Yemen communicated its strong desire to lay its hands on the handless Hamza, one way or another.” Abu Hamza supports and funds jihad in Yemen and is the IAA’s spokesperson (see (June 1998)). In December 1998, one of the IAA’s demands in return for freeing kidnapped hostages was that Abu Hamza’s stepson be released from prison in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107] As a result of the row between the two countries, on January 3 Britain announces that Yemen’s application to join the Commonwealth has been rejected, because it “does not meet the entry criteria on good governance.” Yemen responds that it does not care and it is withdrawing the application anyway. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 172]

Entity Tags: Mary Quin, Ali Abdallah Saleh, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Islamic Army of Aden, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The trial of Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden, begins. Almihdhar is on trial in connection with a bombing plot that some of his alleged operatives failed to carry off (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping he carried out in an attempt to get them freed (see December 28-29, 1998). The trial, which the authorities had predicted would last a mere 48 hours, drags on for months and Almihdhar turns it into a public relations exercise for himself. He is tried along with two other men; 11 more are tried in absentia.
Apparent Admissions - Upon arrival, Almihdhar breaks free from the guards and shouts an apparent admission: “I did everything in the name of God so I am sorry for nothing. I am very famous now, but let everyone know I only gave orders to kill the men not the women [during the kidnapping].” Upon entering the court, according to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, he “shrug[s] off his escort and swagger[s] into the wooden dock like a prize fighter entering the ring.” Asked if he feels remorse for one of the female victims being buried today, he says he does not, adding that neither is he concerned about her husband, who escaped: “If my pistol had not jammed he would be dead as well.” He also comments, “If I live I will kill some more.”
'More to Call On' - After the judge manages to persuade Almihdhar to listen to the charges he faces, he first denies knowing the operatives involved in the bombing plot, then turns to the public gallery and says he is angry they failed in their mission. He adds: “Don’t worry, others will come behind them. I have more to call on.”
Link to Abu Hamza - Much of the trial is focused on British radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who the Yemenis say is behind terror operations in Yemen. O’Neill and McGrory will write that Abu Hamza’s “spectre” hangs over the proceedings and that “[h]is name crop[s] up at every session, with prosecutors labouring the point that the real villain was not in the dock, only his footsoldiers.” Asked about his link to Abu Hamza, Almihdhar says: “He knows me, because I am very famous. Hamza takes orders from me. I don’t take them from him.”
Confession - He gives his profession as “a mujaheddin warrior working in the cause of God,” and then immediately launches into what McGrory and O’Neill call a 45-minute “harangue,” during which he reveals details of how he planned and carried out the kidnapping.
Sentenced to Death - Almihdhar will be sentenced to death at the end of the trial on May 5. The sentence will reportedly be carried out in October 1999, although some will suggest Almihdhar is not actually executed (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 173-176, 183]

Entity Tags: Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Acting on a tip-off from a local sheikh, Yemeni security forces capture six men wanted on terrorism charges by Al Batan mountain, around 250 miles northeast of Aden. Four of the men are wanted in connection with a series of planned bombings in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). They are:
bullet Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, son of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a British militant leader and informer for the security services there (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza’s stepson is already in custody;
bullet Shazad Nabi, a British citizen;
bullet Ayaz Hussein, another British citizen; and
bullet Ali Meksen, an Algerian who apparently uses a number of false identities.
The other two are members of the Islamic Army of Aden, a local al-Qaeda affiliate. One is known as Abu Haraira, the other is Abdullah Salah al-Junaidi. Both had participated in a hostage-taking operation aimed at freeing six associates of the British men (see December 28-29, 1998). [Quin, 2005, pp. 107-108; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177]

Entity Tags: Ayaz Hussein, Ali Meksen, Abu Haraira, Shazad Nabi, Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, Salah al-Junaidi, Islamic Army of Aden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following a plot in which British citizens are kidnapped and murdered in Yemen, the Special Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police shows greater interest in Finsbury Park mosque. The mosque is associated with leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri, who supported the plot (see December 28-29, 1998). It is also attended by “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid (see March 1997-April 2000), and Djamal Beghal, a top radical Islamist. Reda Hassaine, a Special Branch informer who has penetrated the mosque, is quizzed on “every detail” of what he knows about it. He is also shown some photographs of people who attend the mosque, and asked about Abu Hamza and other radical groups in London. In addition, he draws a sketch of the building indicating the prayer room, Abu Hamza’s office, the kitchen, and the sleeping areas. Hassaine is also asked to provide regular reports, and, in March, to turn over all material he has collected, his notes, newsletters, and other documents. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86, 140-141]

Entity Tags: Reda Hassaine, Metropolitan Police Special Branch

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The government of Yemen says that it has executed Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), for his part in a kidnapping and murder plot (see December 28-29, 1998). However, the execution is not public and his body is not returned to his family. This leads Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading supporter of the IAA, to speculate that Almihdhar is still alive in prison. Yemeni journalist Bashraheel Bashraheel will also comment: “The execution would have sparked a civil war.… The tribal leaders know [Almihdhar] is still alive and have been bribed to persuade their followers not to rebel.” [Quin, 2005, pp. 126, 157-8, 187] It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [New York Times, 12/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Yemen, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, Bashraheel Bashraheel, Islamic Army of Aden, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

British authorities return items they previously confiscated from leading cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri over his involvement in the murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998).
Tapes - The material is returned after Britain decides not to prosecute Abu Hamza for his part in the murders, and includes video and audio tapes “packed with the usual messages of intolerance and hatred, and culminating in exhortations to kill the enemies of Islam.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the evidence gathered by the police “insufficient” for a prosecution, although it will later be found that three of the tapes show Abu Hamza committing the offense of “soliciting to murder.” Apparently, detectives only watched one of the tapes, as they were not the focus of their inquiries, and the police report to the CPS did not mention them. Abu Hamza will later say that he takes their return as proof nothing he says in his sermons is illegal.
Encyclopedia of Jihad - He is also given back his encyclopedia of Afghan jihad, which contains “hundreds of pages of instructions and diagrams on making bombs, organizing ambushes, laying landmines and selecting targets—among them Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.” The encyclopedia has been known to investigators in Europe for some time (see March 1995 and 1998-December 11, 1999). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will note ironically that the authorities apparently believe that the encyclopedia is “a legitimate thing for an advocate of eternal Holy War to have in his library.” The encyclopedia will later be described at a “terrorist manual” in a court case against Abu Hamza, where it will be a key piece of evidence against him.
Passport - However, the police do retain his passport, preventing Abu Hamza, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), from traveling abroad. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After deciding to end his career as an informant against radical Islamists in London (see April 21, 2000), Reda Hassaine reflects bitterly on his experience of the British security services, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch: “These guys I was risking my life for—they hadn’t arrested anybody, they didn’t do a proper job. All the work I had done, all the risks I took didn’t seem to amount to anything. All this killing was taking place abroad, but the British didn’t give a sh*t that the killers were here in London. As long as nothing happened in Britain, then everything was alright. Abu Hamza [al-Masri, another MI5 informer (see Early 1997)] was left to do whatever he liked, to brainwash, to recruit, and send people off to the training camps. I was telling the British this all the time. ‘This group is going to Afghanistan,’ I would say. ‘They’re leaving on Friday, they have tickets to fly to Pakistan.’ And the only reply I got was, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’”
'Harmless Clown'? - Hassaine will add: “I wasn’t surprised. When I began to work with MI5 I already knew from the French that they would do nothing, that they weren’t interested in what was happening in London, the threat didn’t register. They told me that they thought Abu Hamza was a ‘harmless clown,’ but I felt obliged to carry on with the work. [Note: a group closely associate with Abu Hamza murdered some British citizens and others in Yemen in 1998 (see December 28-29, 1998).] I had started this thing, I wanted to pursue it. I later learned that Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada were both talking to MI5 and Special Branch too. The British must have thought they had these guys under control, that they were collaborating with them.”
'A Factory for Making Terrorists' - Hassaine will continue: “Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Abu Hamza was busily recruiting hundreds of people, sending them off to Afghanistan, from where they were returning unnoticed and undetected to do whatever they like. Abu Hamza had this great big mosque where these people could hide, pick up a new identity, get money and support, and receive the blessing of the imam for their actions. Seven days a week that place was producing recruits for the jihad. It was a factory for making terrorists.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 150-151]

Entity Tags: UK Security Service (MI5), Metropolitan Police Special Branch, Reda Hassaine, Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Reid.Richard Reid. [Source: Plymouth County Jail]MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, has Zacarias Moussaoui under surveillance. The French government had asked MI5 to monitor him in 1999 (see 1999), but it has not been confirmed if this is in response to that request. It is not clear when the surveillance begins, but the Observer reports that it lasts for “months” and ends when Moussaoui leaves Britain on December 9, 2000, to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The extent of Moussaoui’s surveillance is not publicly known; the only reported detail is that some phone calls between Moussaoui and Richard Reid are intercepted. Reid will later be convicted for attempting to blow up a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). MI5 records the conversations between them made inside Britain. Opposition politicians in Britain will later criticize MI5 for not realizing Reid’s al-Qaeda ties between 9/11 and Reid’s shoe bomb plot over two months later. [Observer, 12/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001] Moussaoui appears to be in contact with other al-Qaeda figures during this time. For instance, he travels to Yazid Sufaat’s house in Malaysia in September 2000 and again in October 2000 (see September-October 2000), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh stays in London for a week in early December 2000 and meets with Moussaoui (see October 2000-February 2001). [Independent, 12/11/2001] However, it is not known if such contacts are monitored as well.

Entity Tags: Yazid Sufaat, United Kingdom, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard C. Reid, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Leading radical cleric and British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri tells his supporters to pledge “bayat”—an oath of loyalty—to Osama bin Laden. The instruction is set out in an announcement pinned to the notice board at the Finsbury Park mosque, where Abu Hamza is the Friday preacher. The pledge is mandatory for all members of Abu Hamza’s Supporters of Shariah organization, while other worshippers at the mosque are merely encouraged to follow their example. However, one of the moderate trustees at the mosque, Kadir Barkatullah, objects, saying that a mosque is no place to praise a terrorist. After he is thrown out of the mosque for trying to explain this to Abu Hamza, he goes to the local police, but they take no action. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 95-96] Despite being an informer for the authorities himself (see Early 1997), Abu Hamza is also under surveillance by them (see Summer 1996-August 1998, March 1997-April 2000, and Late January 1999), but neither MI5 not the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch appears to take any action against him over the matter.

Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Supporters of Shariah, Kadir Barkatullah

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

The Sun announces Abu Hamza’s arrest in typically dramatic fashion.The Sun announces Abu Hamza’s arrest in typically dramatic fashion. [Source: The Sun]Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is finally arrested by British police, who also seize documents, books and numerous audio and video tapes, at his home in London. The arrest is not due to any criminal proceedings in Britain, but because of a warrant for his extradition to the US, where he is wanted for direct personal involvement in terrorist recruitment, fundraising, and kidnapping. Abu Hamza decides to fight the extradition, but is denied bail. Abu Hamza had been at the center of Islamist radicalism in Britain for some time and had previously been arrested and released for his part in a kidnapping (see December 28-29, 1998). He informed for the security services beginning in 1997 (see Early 1997). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146, 289-290]

Entity Tags: Abu Hamza al-Masri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A high-ranking Yemeni defector alleges that the highest ranks of Yemen’s military and security forces have long collaborated with radical militants in the country. The defector, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani, was head of Yemen’s navy at the time of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000) and recently served as its ambassador to Syria. Al-Hasani claims that the perpetrators of the USS Cole attack “are well known by the regime and some are still officers in the national army.” The Yemeni government hindered the Cole investigation (see After October 12, 2000). Al-Hasani also says that Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, an army commander who is the half-brother of President Ali Abdallah Saleh and has links with radical militants (see 1980-1990 and May 21-July 7, 1994), was involved in a plot to kidnap Western tourists in 1998 (see December 26, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Al-Hasani arrived in Britain with his family, and is apparently debriefed by Western intelligence agencies. He claims to have fallen out with President Saleh over discrimination against southern Yemenis and fears he will be assassinated if he returns home. Yemeni authorities dismiss al-Hasani’s claims. “All these allegations are untrue and groundless,” says a government spokesman. “This man is making these allegations in order to legitimise and give significance to his claim of asylum.” [Sunday Times (London), 5/8/2005]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, Ahmed Abdullah al-Hasani

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

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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