Profile: Metropolitan Police Special Branch
Metropolitan Police Special Branch was a participant or observer in the following events:
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]
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]
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]
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]
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