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Profile: John Stevens
John Stevens was a participant or observer in the following events:
The radical Finsbury Park mosque becomes what one informer will call “an al-Qaeda guest house in London.” The informer, Reda Hassaine, works for two British intelligence services (see (November 11, 1998) and (May 1999)), and one of his tasks is to monitor the mosque’s leader Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for the British (see Early 1997).
Experienced Fighters - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later write: “For some visitors, the mosque was a secure retreat for rest and recreation after a tour of duty in the holy war. Such was Finsbury Park’s reputation that an international brigade of Islamic militants used it as a safe haven for a spot of leave before they returned to the jihad front line and undertook terror operations.”
Raw Recruits - Hassaine will say the mosque was especially important to al-Qaeda because the experienced fighters on leave could mix with potential recruits: “The mosque was secure. It offered money, tickets, and names of people to meet in Pakistan. It was an al-Qaeda guest house in London. The boys could come back from the jihad and find a place to stay, to talk about war, to be with their own kind of people, to make plans and to recruit other people. These people, if they thought you were willing to do the jihad, they paid special attention to you. If they thought you were willing, that is when Abu Hamza would step in to do the brainwashing. Once he started, you wouldn’t recover. You would become a ‘special guest’ of the mosque until they could measure your level of commitment and they could organize your trip to Afghanistan.”
Numbers - O’Neill and McGrory will say that the exact number of recruits who pass through Finsbury Park and the Afghan camps is unclear, although “hundreds and hundreds of suspects” from around the world are linked to the mosque. London Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will say two thousand recruits from the mosque undergo terror training, whereas one of his successors, Sir Ian Blair, will say it was closer to a tenth of that number. O’Neill and McGrory will add: “MI5 has never revealed its tally. However many it was, not a single recruit who attended these camps was ever arrested when he got home.” The CIA will later be surprised by the “sizable number” of al-Qaeda recruits who both train in the camps in Afghanistan and attend Finsbury Park. After the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, the FBI will find questionnaires completed by the recruits, and some of these will specify Abu Hamza as the person who referred them to the camps, also giving “jihad” as their ambition after completing their training. O’Neill and McGrory will point out, “Such was Abu Hamza’s stature that having his name as a reference would guarantee his nominees acceptance at Khaldan,” an al-Qaeda camp.
'The World Capital of Political Islam' - O’Neill and McGrory will conclude, “The result of Abu Hamza’s recruitment regime—and that pursued by the other fundamentalist groups which had made London the world capital of political Islam—was that more young men from Britain embarked on suicide missions than from all the other countries of Europe combined.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86, 97-98, 101-102]
Raid on Finsbury Park Mosque. [Source: BBC]The Metropolitan Police mount an early morning raid on Finsbury Park mosque, sending in 200 officers.
Decision to Launch - The raid is primarily the result of intelligence about Kamal Bourgass, a man implicated in an alleged ricin plot (see September 18, 2002-January 3, 2003). Bourgass was in possession of an envelope with instructions in Arabic for manufacturing poisons and explosives, as well as lists of chemicals, discovered by police during a raid in Wood Green days earlier (see January 5, 2003). These “poison recipes” were in Bourgass’s writing, and the envelope had the address of the Finsbury Park Mosque with the name of “Nadir,” an alias used by Bourgass. [Observer, 4/17/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254] Like other illegal immigrants, Bourgass had used the mosque as a place to stay and as his postal address for correspondence with the immigration service. He had stayed there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. [BBC, 2/7/2006] In addition, one of many suspects detained by the police around Britain at this time tells police that the photocopier in the mosque’s office had been used to copy some “recipes” written by Bourgass. Other suspects detained have links to the mosque, and have worked or slept there. Finally, two suspects the police want to detain are known to sleep in the mosque’s basement.
High-Level Approval - Due to the politically sensitive nature of the operation, it is approved in advance by Prime Minister Tony Blair, Home Secretary David Blunkett, and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. In the 24 hours before the raid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens says publicly that many terrorists are under surveillance and Blunkett says he is happy for counterterrorist units to take “whatever steps necessary, controversial, or otherwise.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 254-256]
Searches, Discoveries - Armored officers batter down the doors to begin days of searches. In addition, they make seven arrests. After the trial and conviction of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri for hate crimes in February 2006, police will reveal their discoveries from the raid. The police uncover chemical weapons protection suits, pistols, CS spray, and a stun gun. Other military paraphernalia include a gas mask, handcuffs, hunting knives, and a walkie-talkie. The police also find more than 100 stolen or forged passports and identity documents, credit cards, laminating equipment, and checkbooks hidden in the ceiling and under rugs, as well as more than $6,000 in cash. A senior police officer will say, “The fact that they were happy to keep this sort of stuff in the building is an indication of how safe and secure they felt they were inside.” Authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill will comment, “This was exactly the kind of material that informants like Reda Hassaine had told the intelligence services about years before” (see 1995-April 21, 2000).
Afterwards - Despite the haul, Abu Hamza is neither arrested nor interviewed, although police believe he must have known what was going on. The items seized will not be mentioned at his trial, or, with the exception of the photocopier, the ricin trial. However, they lead to police inquiries in 26 countries, which McGrory and O’Neill will call “a clear indication of the reach and influence of the terrorist networks operating out of Finsbury Park.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 260-262; BBC, 2/7/2006]
Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches for the first time outside Finsbury Park mosque, which was raided and closed by police at the start of the week (see January 20, 2003). His supporters have been alerted and come to listen to him at the Friday prayer ceremony, which is also attended by two dozen policemen and a number of journalists. Abu Hamza calls the police “agents of Satan,” while Muslim leaders who have refused to join him are “monkeys in three-piece suits, stupid people, they are just a joke.” Demonstrators hold up signs saying, “British government, you will pay,” and proclaiming that Prime Minister Tony Blair has declared “war” on British Muslims. These rallies continue every Friday for over a year, until Abu Hamza is finally arrested. The police ignore complaints from local residents, saying there are public order reasons for stewarding them and blocking off traffic. The cost to the police between January 2003 and November 2004 is £874,387 (about $1,500,000). Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens will defend this cost, although critics will say it is a waste of the taxpayers’ money and Abu Hamza should be in jail. After prayers, Abu Hamza’s minders bring out a chair, and the cleric then sits in it to hear requests from individual worshippers. The sessions are videotaped by the police, who also monitor the crowd. If a person tries to hide his identity, the police follow him and photograph him when he drops his guard. The loss of the mosque hampers Abu Hamza’s operations, depriving him of its privacy and security, as well as the flow of potential recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 267-268, 278-279]
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