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Context of 'Summer 2001: Radical London Imam Abu Hamza Encourages Supporters to Pledge Loyalty to Bin Laden, British Authorities Take No Action'

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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

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

Radical British cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri sends an associate, James Ujaama, to the US to raise funds for his operations. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), is linked to both Osama bin Laden (see March 1999 and Summer 2001) and the Islamic Army of Aden, a Yemeni al-Qaeda-affiliate (see December 23, 1998 and December 28-29, 1998). Ujaama, an American citizen, arrives in London in 1999 and soon becomes part of Abu Hamza’s inner circle. Between 1999 and 2002 Ujaama makes 11 trips back to the US. Allegedly, one of the trips is to raise money for Abu Hamza’s activities in Britain through a tour of US mosques. Another is an attempt to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000). Ujaama also travels to Afghanistan several times (see December 2000-December 2001), and may train at camps there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: James Ujaama, Abu Hamza al-Masri

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 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

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