Profile: Abu Hamza al-Masri
a.k.a. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri
Abu Hamza al-Masri was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a future leader of the Islamist movement in Britain (see March 1997) who will have a long relationship with Britain’s security services (see Early 1997) and will be convicted on terrorism charges (see January 11-February 7, 2006), fraudulently obtains British citizenship and swears allegiance to the Queen. However, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, “he could have been deported from Britain as an illegal immigrant and a fraudster long before he caused the trouble that he went on to stir up.” For example:
When he first arrived in Britain in July 1979, he found a job in contravention of his one-month visitor’s visa. He also breached the terms of subsequent visas by working;
He stopped renewing his visa and became an illegal immigrant, doing casual work for cash-in-hand;
When he married Valerie Traverso, a pregnant single mother of three, in May 1980, she was still married to her first husband and the marriage to Abu Hamza was therefore bigamous;
When Traverso gave birth to a child fathered by her real, but estranged, husband four months later, Abu Hamza falsely registered himself as the father.
Abu Hamza was able to obtain leave to stay in Britain based on the illegal marriage and fraudulent birth certificate, even though he was arrested in a raid on the porn cinema where he worked as a bouncer and identified as an illegal immigrant. The leave to stay is later made indefinite, and he obtains citizenship seven years after arriving in Britain. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 4-13]
The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, visits London and gives several talks there to recruit fighters for the war in Afghanistan. The visits may be paid for by the CIA, which is said to be paying for his travel at this point and is also said to arrange US visas for him (see July 1990). The talks are attended by future extremist leader Abu Hamza al-Masri. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 17-18]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, before he was injured and lost an eye. [Source: CIA]Many veteran mujaheddin who have been wounded in the Soviet-Afghan War receive expensive treatment for their injuries in London. The care is paid for by rich Saudis and provided at clinics in Harley Street, an area well known for the high quality and price of the treatment provided there. Local extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri acts as a translator for the wounded. He will later speak of the deep impression this makes on him, “When you see how happy they are, how anxious just to have a new limb so they can run again and fight again, not thinking of retiring, their main ambition is to get killed in the cause of Allah… you see another dimension in the verses of the Koran.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 18] Some wounded mujaheddin are also treated in Saudi Arabia, where their treatment is paid for by the Islamic Benevolence Committee, a charity and early incarnation of the Benevolence International Foundation. The treatment is provided at a hospital owned by the family of the charity’s founder, Adel Batterjee. The committee will go on to help fighters injured in the Bosnian War (see 1993). [Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004]
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]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, who will later become a leading Islamic radical in Britain, travels to Afghanistan and, as he is a qualified civil engineer, helps with reconstruction efforts there after the Soviet withdrawal. He later receives paramilitary training at Darunta camp and loses his hands and the sight in one eye while practicing making explosives there. He is taken to Pakistan for emergency treatment, but refuses to hand over a set of passports he has to that country’s ISI intelligence agency, and flees to Britain with his family due to fears of a reprisal. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 21-29]
Extremist imam Abu Hamza al-Masri makes three trips to Bosnia to meet the mujaheddin there. Before leaving Britain, where he lives, he changes his name and travels on a passport in his new name, as he is worried about surveillance by the security services. He cannot actually fight, due to injuries suffered in Afghanistan (see 1991-Late 1993), but, after entering the country with a relief convoy, Abu Hamza spends time with groups of radical fighters, in particular those from Algeria. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 30-31]
Reda Hassaine, an informer for the Algerian (see Early 1995), French (see Early 1997), and British (see (November 11, 1998)) security services in London, witnesses a “multitude of illegal activities” at the radical Finsbury Park mosque. However, at this time the British authorities take no action against the mosque, which is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, himself an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997).
Skimming, Credit Cards - Hassaine will later say of illegal activities at the mosque: “It was going on all around you in the evenings and the afternoons. People were selling passports, stolen credit cards, and cloned credit cards. There were black boxes of the kind they used for skimming the numbers. They would recruit people who were working in petrol stations, hotels, restaurants, and give them the black boxes to collect the details from customers’ cards. Then they would use these cloned cards to buy trainers [running shoes], Levi’s 501s, [and] designer clothes which would be sold inside the mosque for cash.… If you wanted, you could buy a credit card for your own use, but it was always a gamble.… even if they were caught they were usually carrying a false identity. The police were never too bothered.”
Identity Fraud - The identity documents on sale were key: “The passport was useful because they could use it as proof of identity and then they could set up electricity, gas, or telephone accounts using a temporary address. British Telecom bills were the most useful. Then they would have proof of identity and proof of address, all that was needed to open a bank account. Using several identities they would open several bank accounts, manage them carefully for six months, keep maybe £1,000 in there, and the bank would offer them a credit card. So they would take the legitimate credit card and use it carefully for six months and the bank would offer them a loan. That’s when they strike.… [The banks] must have lost millions to people who were operating scams like that out of Finsbury Park.”
Benefit Fraud - Hassaine will add: “Those same people were all claiming income support and sub-letting rooms for which they were receiving housing benefit while living for free in the mosque itself. They had also lodged asylum claims; there were guys who set themselves up as translators and would sit in the mosque coaching people in stories of how they had been persecuted in Algeria or faced torture if they returned home. Once they got their story right they would be taken along to a friendly solicitor who would take on their asylum claim.”
'One Foot in the Mafia' - However: “And don’t believe for one minute that all this money went to the jihad. There are men who were into all these rackets at the mosque during the 1990s, who claimed to be mujaheddin but are now living happily back in Algiers in big houses and driving around in brand new Mercedes cars. The truth is that a lot of them had one foot in the mujaheddin and one foot in the mafia.”
Abu Hamza Confessed to Intelligence Handlers - Abu Hamza is never questioned about the the illegal activities, even after some of the people directly involved in it are later jailed. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “The British authorities were clearly aware that he was involved in fundraising for terrorism—not least because he confessed it to his contacts in the intelligence services.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 71-73, 290]
Britain a Fundraising Base - O’Neill and McGrory will also later highlight the importance of the funds raised in Britain for the global Islamist struggle (see March 2000-September 22, 2001): “The mujaheddin groups and terrorist cells around the world that allied themselves to the al-Qaeda ideology were largely autonomous and self-financing. Britain was a key source of that finance.”
Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was present in both Afghanistan and Bosnia during the wars there (see 1991-Late 1993 and 1995), is given his first regular preaching slot in Luton, a town to the north of London. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Luton gave him a base, and he launched himself like a hurricane on the Islamic circuit. Young men flocked to hear him and his reputation grew, drawing students from the Islamic societies of London universities to his Friday sermons.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 32-33]
In 1996, Zacarias Moussaoui begins recruiting other young Muslims to fight for Islamic militant causes in Chechnya and Kosovo. [Time, 9/24/2001] He recruits for Chechen warlord Ibn Khattab, the Chechen leader most closely linked to al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). Details on his Kosovo links are still unknown. For most of this time, he is living in London and is often seen at the Finsbury Park mosque run by Abu Hamza al-Masri. For a time, Moussaoui has two French Caucasian roommates, Jerome and David Courtailler. The family of these brothers later believes that Moussaoui recruits them to become radical militants. The brothers will later be arrested for suspected roles in plotting attacks on the US embassy in Paris and NATO’s headquarters in Brussels. [Scotsman, 10/1/2001] David Courtailler will later confess that at the Finsbury Park mosque he was given cash, a fake passport, and the number of a contact in Pakistan who would take him to an al-Qaeda camp. [London Times, 1/5/2002] French intelligence later learns that one friend he recruits, Masooud Al-Benin, dies in Chechnya in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Shortly before 9/11, Moussaoui will try to recruit his US roommate at the time, Hussein al-Attas, to fight in Chechnya. Al-Attas will also see Moussaoui frequently looking at websites about the Chechnya conflict. [Daily Oklahoman, 3/22/2006] Moussaoui also goes to Chechnya himself in 1996-1997 (see 1996-Early 1997).
Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, helps fund a militant group in Yemen that will later take credit for the 2000 USS Cole bombing. The group, the Islamic Army of Aden, is apparently formed in 1996 or 1997, but is not heard from until May 1998, when it issues the first of a series of political statements. The group will kidnap 16 mainly British tourists in December 1998 and four of the tourists will be killed during a shootout with police. The remaining hostages are rescued. [Yemen Gateway, 1/1999] Evidence ties Khalifa to the 1995 Bojinka plot and other violent acts, though he has denied all allegations that he is linked to terrorist groups. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, later claims that not only did Khalifa fund the Islamic Army of Aden, but that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had ties to the group as well. (A San Diego friend of Almihdhar’s will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of the group (see Around October 12, 2000).) [Wall Street Journal, 9/19/2001] Cannistraro further notes that Khalifa went on to form the group after being deported from the US in 1995. “He should never have been allowed to leave US custody.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/24/2001] The group praises bin Laden and uses a training camp reportedly established by him in southern Yemen. But the group is more clearly tied to Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, a handless, one-eyed Afghan war veteran living and preaching openly in London. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]
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]
Leading London-based imam Abu Qatada denounces the Algerian GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) over massacres of civilians the group has apparently conducted in Algeria, and severs ties with it. Fellow imam Abu Hamza al-Masri follows suit the next year. Abu Qatada says that support should no longer be provided to the GIA because they are declaring other Muslims infidels and killing them, although they are not learned men and do not have the authority to do this. This is highly controversial in the radical Islamic community in London, as some believe it is the government, not the GIA, that is carrying out the massacres, and Abu Qatada’s popularity declines. Abu Hamza initially defends the GIA, but, as the massacres get worse, support for the GIA in London ebbs. Eventually, Abu Hamza calls a GIA commander and asks for an explanation for a massacre. The commander says that the villagers were killed because they supported the moderate Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) and Abu Hamza withdraws his support from the GIA a few weeks later. Omar Nasiri, who informs on Abu Hamza for French and British intelligence and listens in on the call to the commander, will later comment: “More than anything else, this episode proved to me that Abu Hamza was a sham. His objectives shifted with the wind. He needed the GIA to seduce followers away from Abu Qatada. Now, he saw that he might lose more than he gained by continuing to support it. For Abu Hamza, it was all about the zakat, the money he collected every week after the al-Jum’a prayers. The more people attended, the more cash there would be.” [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 271-2, 275, 295-6] Bin Laden denounces the GIA around the same time (see Mid-1996).
French authorities question leading Islamist radical Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), in London. However, the interview is frustrated by a Scotland Yard detective, who, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, acts “almost as Abu Hamza’s protector.” The French want to question Abu Hamza about the extremist Christopher Caze, who is said to have met Abu Hamza in Bosnia, and who was shot by police in Roubaix, France, in 1996. The French investigation thwarted a plan to attack a G7 summit, and a huge cache of arms and explosives was found, but one of Caze’s accomplices, Lionel Dumont, escaped. The British police politely tell Abu Hamza the French would like to ask him some questions, but stress that this has nothing to do with them, and that he is free to refuse to talk to the French. Abu Hamza will later say, “They told me I was a British citizen and I didn’t have to answer if I didn’t want to.” However, Abu Hamza comes to the interview, but says he does not know any of Caze’s associates and, when asked about Al Ansar, a propaganda magazine he publishes for the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, he says it is not against the law in Britain. One of the French investigators is “really upset and angry,” but Abu Hamza will later say the British detective “was very easy about it all, he said I didn’t have to answer.” In addition, “At the end of the meeting he walked with me back to my car, he was smiling and chatting and everything.” For this reason and others, French authorities come to believe that Britain is sympathetic to Islamic militancy. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 127-8]
Djamel Beghal, who authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will call “al-Qaeda’s man in Paris,” leaves France and moves to London. He makes the move due to his dissatisfaction with life in France, because of the anti-Islamist climate in Paris and because of poor personal circumstances. On arrival in Britain, he rents properties in Leicester, in central England, and in London, where he begins to frequent Finsbury Park mosque. In early 1997 the mosque becomes a hotbed of Islamist radicalism when it is taken over by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997 and March 1997). Beghal becomes one of the key figures at the mosque, which he uses to recruit potential al-Qaeda operatives, including shoe bomber Richard Reid (see Spring 1998). One of his recruiting techniques is to constantly lecture impressionable young men and, according to O’Niell and McGrory, “A recurrent theme of [his] nightly lectures [is] to tell the young men sitting at his feet that there [is] no higher duty than to offer themselves for suicide missions.” Beghal also travels the world, going to Afghanistan at least once to meet senior al-Qaeda leaders, possibly even Osama bin Laden, who Beghal claims gives him a set of prayer beads as thanks for his work. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86-87, 89-90]
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]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), is given the prestigious Friday sermon spot at the large Finsbury Park mosque in London. He is suggested thanks to his work at a mosque in nearby Luton (see 1996) and at his interviews he manages to charm the mosque’s management committee, which is also pleased by his low financial demands.
Abu Qatada Rejected - The committee had also interviewed radical imam Abu Qatada, a well known scholar and author, for the position—Abu Qatada has militant links, but the committee is apparently not aware of them at this time. However, Abu Qatada told the committee that they should be grateful he was willing to take the job, demanding to see the mosque’s accounts and to receive 50 percent of all monies collected there. It is not known what Abu Qatada, an informer for British intelligence (see June 1996-February 1997), wanted to do with the money, but he is apparently a member of al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and is linked to terrorism finance (see 1995-February 2001). Due to the mosque’s financial position, the committee does not offer the job to Abu Qatada.
Mosque Already Infiltrated by GIA - A group of Algerian radicals, many of whom are veterans of the Algerian Civil War and are members of the Algerian militant group the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), had already infiltrated the mosque, and the Algerians assist Abu Hamza after his appointment. One leading Algerian radical seen at the mosque is Ali Touchent, a suspected mole for the Algerian intelligence service (see November 1996).
Takeover - However, Abu Hamza soon begins to take the mosque away from the moderate trustees and turn it into a hotbed of radicalism. Initially, he claims that money has gone missing from a set of flats the mosque rents to tenants, then says that one of the flats is being used as a brothel and that one of the mosque’s old management team is taking a cut. Thanks to Abu Hamza’s exciting sermons, many more people attend the mosque, and there is not enough room to accommodate all of them in the main prayer hall. Abu Hamza makes money by selling tapes of his sermons, as well as videos of radicals fighting in Chechnya, Algeria, and Bosnia, in a shop he opens at the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 36-43]
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).
Reda Hassaine, an informer for French and then British intelligence (see Early 1997, (November 11, 1998), and (May 1999)), watches leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri at work in Finsbury Park mosque, where he recruits numerous extremist Muslims to take up arms. Abu Hamza is an informer for the British himself (see Early 1997).
Schoolboys - Hassaine will later describe the techniques Abu Hamza used on schoolboys: “They would come to the mosque after they finished school, from 11 years old and upwards, and he would sit them down and first tell them a few funny stories. This was his little madrassa [Islamic boarding school]. Parents were sending their kids to learn about Islam, they didn’t realize they were sending them to be brainwashed. Abu Hamza would talk very slowly to them, telling them about the teachings of the Koran, and the need for violence.”
Young Men - Hassaine will say that recruitment proper began with the older novices, who Abu Hamza met in the first-floor prayer room: “This was the heart of the action. It was how the recruitment began. Many of these kids were British Asian boys, and he would talk to them in English. He would talk about Kashmir. His message was always the same: ‘Islam is all about jihad and at the end the reward is paradise. Paradise is held by two swords and you must use one of those to kill in the name of Allah to get to paradise.’”
Algeria - Hassaine will add: “When the people were Algerians he would sit with them with coffee and dates and show them the GIA videos, and he would say, ‘Look at your brothers, look what they are doing, they are heroes, most of them are now in paradise and if you go there with them you will have 72 wives. All of this will be for ever, for eternity. This life is very short, you have to think about the big journey.’”
Osama bin Laden - Hassaine will also comment: “He used to talk about Yemen and Egypt, but after 1998 all the talk changed, it became all about Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was there, the Taliban were building the Islamic state. This was the beginning of the recruitment of a second generation of people to go to Afghanistan, not to fight this time but to learn how to fight, to train and then go elsewhere to do damage. It all began in the summer of 1998.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 84-85]
Under Surveillance - Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will also point out: “Foreign intelligence services knew this selection process was happening within months of Abu Hamza taking over in north London in March 1997. They had their own informants inside.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 79]
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]
Leading Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), gives a lecture entitled “Holding Fast to Allah in the Land of Disbelief” explaining to his followers that they can steal from non-Muslims. The date of the lecture is not known precisely, but it is presumably after Abu Hamza takes over Finsbury Park mosque in early 1997 (see March 1997). Abu Hamza’s basic reasoning is that “the unbelievers cheated us and took it [Muslim wealth] away, but we come to take some of it back.” He says that the lives and wealth of Muslims are more valuable that that of unbelievers, and so are protected. Unbelievers’ wealth is not protected, and so can be taken. “If you can claim it [Muslim wealth] back, then do so,” he says, adding: “It is theft but it is theft from non-protected persons. It is like killing a non-protected person, there is nothing in it; it is not protected blood… We have no concern; the nation has no concern with your acts in these things. The nation of Mohammed has no concern…” In the question and answer session afterwards, Abu Hamza is asked about repayment of a student loan, and replies, “Any debts, you just take it, you just take them all and go.” Shoplifting is also permitted: “You break by force and you take it, this is OK.” However, this does not apply to Muslims who have come to Britain seeking protection, for example from religious persecution, as such people owe the country a debt of gratitude. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 70]
Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), begins to establish a series of training camps in Britain in order to toughen up recruits he wishes to send to fight for Islam abroad. He knows that not all the training can be performed in Britain, but thinks that British teenagers may not be able to cope with the rigors of foreign camps straightaway; the British camps are simply meant as an introduction to the training regime. His first step is to establish a group to examine the laws about firing guns on private property and consider acquiring a country retreat for his militia. Initially, Abu Hamza takes advantage of venues used by companies for team bonding exercises, but he later hires an old monastery in Kent and a farm in Scotland for the groups to use. There, recruits learn to strip down AK-47 machine guns and decommissioned grenades, as well as working with mock rocket launchers. Another site he uses is the Brecon Beacons in Wales, and he hires two ex-soldiers who claim to have been in Special Forces to train his recruits. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 83-84] Abu Hamza will later attempt to start a similar camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000).
Leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri edits the Al Ansar newsletter published for the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), a radical faction engaged in a bitter civil war with the Algerian government. It is unclear when Abu Hamza starts editing the publication, but it was previously edited by Abu Qatada, another leading radical London imam who broke with the GIA in the summer of 1996, so Abu Hamza may have started editing it then (see January 5, 1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). It was also previously edited by Rachid Ramda, a suspect in bombings in France, and was reportedly financed by Osama bin Laden (see 1994). In the mid-1990s, the GIA commits a series of massacres of the civilian population in Algeria, apparently due to a change of the organization’s direction initiated by an Algerian government mole (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Abu Hamza, himself an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), initially supports the GIA despite the massacres, although other senior Islamists such as bin Laden and Abu Qatada break with the group over the issue (see Mid-1996 and Mid 1996-October 1997). However, by the fall of 1997 worshippers at Finsbury park mosque in London, where Abu Hamza preaches, are so angry that he is forced to stop editing Al Ansar and sever his ties with the organization. What happens to Al Ansar after this is not known, but it presumably fades in importance as the GIA declines in importance as well. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 43]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). After the exchange of “pleasantries,” Abu Hamza and his handler discuss his recent breach with the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian militant group, which has been indiscriminately killing civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The handler notes that “[Abu] Hamza is bowed but not broken,” and adds, “For him the jihad goes on, if not in Algeria then somewhere else.” Abu Hamza tells the MI5 officer that Britain “is seen as a place to fundraise and to propagate Islam.” Authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will later comment, “The admission that Abu Hamza and his followers were using [Britain] to raise funds to finance terrorism overseas did not seem to cause a blip on the MI5 agent’s radar.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145]
French authorities worry about a possible attack by militant Islamists during the 1998 World Cup in France. This “huge security headache” is primarily related to Algerian militants who previously bombed the Paris metro in 1995 (see July-October 1995) and are now “living untroubled lives in London.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write: “France was on edge. Such was her anxiety about the World Cup that she demanded cooperation from her European neighbours. Where she deemed that collaboration was lacking, or less than enthusiastic, she was sending her own teams of agents abroad to carry out the task of gathering intelligence on Islamist militants.” In this context the French authorities are most concerned about London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, a spiritual leader for the Algerians (see Spring 1998). One of the people plotting attacks at the World Cup, an Algerian, is arrested in Belgium in March 1998, and this leads to further arrests across Europe, although the actual nature of the plot is not known definitively. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123-4, 128]
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). In view of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza’s recent condemnation of the Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) over massacres of civilians (see Mid 1996-October 1997 and October 1, 1997), MI5 asks Abu Hamza to condemn a massacre of sixty people in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997), as it thinks this might calm tensions in Britain and elsewhere. However, he declines to do so, telling MI5 that Egypt is controlled by a “corrupt, Satanic tyranny,” and adds that British tourists should not travel to Egypt. In fact, in public sermons at this time he actually condones the attacks, saying that the tourism industry in Egypt is impure and should be Islamicized. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 145-6]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri helps recruit Saajid Badat, who will later go on to be involved in a shoe bombing plot. Unlike many of Abu Hamza’s recruits, Badat is middle-class, but has argued with his father and moved to London. There Badat attends mosques around the capital and is moved by the plight of Muslims in the former Yugoslavia. Badat is impressed by Abu Hamza’s rhetoric and the fact that he actually went to Bosnia, and goes to Sarajevo himself in 1998. He then goes to study Islam in madrassas (Islamic boarding schools) in the Middle East and Pakistan. His travel to training camps in Afghanistan at the start of 1999 is reportedly arranged by the same people that perform the same service for fellow shoe bomber Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), whom Badat will link up with in Pakistan in November 2001 (see November 20, 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 229-230]
Following a talk in Burnley by radical London cleric and informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), seven young men from the northern English town go to Afghanistan, where two of them die. At the talk, one of Abu Hamza’s aides, a man from Birmingham in central England who had fought in Afghanistan and Bosnia, had given a warm-up speech demanding violence and “blood sacrifice” in Britain. He told the audience: “Get training. There must be some martial arts brothers amongst yourselves. You have to pump into the brothers what you are training for. It’s so you can get the kuffar and crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat, so you can whip his intestines out. That’s why you do the training, so you can rip the people to pieces. Forget wasting a bullet on them, cut them in half.” The seven local men leave shortly after, saying they are going to Pakistan to study in religious schools. A few months later, news arrives that two of the men, one a university student, the other an accountancy graduate, have been killed in shelling by the Northern Alliance in Kabul. It comes to light that they had been approached to help the Taliban. Local community leader Rafique Malik will say: “Nobody knew, not even their parents, that they were going to Afghanistan. They went to Pakistan and the next thing their parents heard is that they are dead.” Abu Hamza will subsequently be banned from preaching in the Burnley mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 59-60]
The Charity Commission, which regulates the affairs of British charities, launches an investigation into the handling of Finsbury Park mosque by radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. The commission has power over the mosque because it is a registered charity, and launches the inquiry due to complaints from the mosque’s former trustees, who were usurped by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza in 1997 (see Early 1997 and March 1997). However, nothing much happens for several years. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Since taking over the mosque, Abu Hamza had amassed a string of unpaid bills. Yet it was not until after 9/11 that the commission took a serious look at his abuse of the mosque’s charitable status.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 286] The commission will attempt to suspend Abu Hamza in 2002 (see April 2002).
At a Friday sermon, radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri curses King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and praises suicide bombers who recently attacked a rush-hour bus in Jerusalem. The sermon is delivered at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, which was actually paid for in part by King Fahd. A moderate Muslim who attends the sermon is angry at the praise for suicide bombings and goes to see Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), asking, “How dare you celebrate other people’s misery?” However, he is intimidated by Abu Hamza’s minders and receives no reply. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 46-47]
Police stop a car carrying supporters of Abu Hamza al-Masri on their way back from a paramilitary training camp in Wales. The supporters include Mohsin Ghalain, Abu Hamza’s stepson, and Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, his son. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), began setting up training camps and courses in Britain the previous year to prepare his supporters to fight for Muslim causes abroad (see (Mid-1997)). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that the police followed the men’s car for some time before it was stopped and, “The authorities clearly had this group on a watch-list.” The police search the car, making remarks indicating they expect to find firearms. However, none are found, as the weapons were given to the men’s trainers, ex-soldiers in the British army, after the end of the course. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 84] Ghalain and Mostafa will later attempt to carry out terrorist attacks in Yemen, but will be thwarted (see December 23, 1998).
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading London radical and informer for the security services (see Early 1997), tells his inner circle of his plans for the future. According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, he “confide[s] to his inner circle at a meeting in his office in January 1998 that he [is] convinced it [is] his destiny to inspire a generation of jihadis [holy warriors]. It [does] not matter how young they [are]; he [is] convinced that the sooner he [has] the chance to influence juvenile minds, the better.” The authors will attribute this to the fact that he “yearn[s] to run [al-Qaeda’s] British franchise.” Numerous intelligence services have informers inside the mosque, and may learn of Abu Hamza’s intentions. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 79, 84]
The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) considers kidnapping Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who is an informer for two British security services in London (see Early 1997). The plan, which is never implemented, is communicated to a French informer named Reda Hassaine by a handling agent known only as “Jerome.”
Concern about World Cup - Jerome tells Hassaine: “Something has to be done. [French Interior Minister Jean Pierre] Chevenement says he cannot sleep on Thursday nights wondering what threat is going to emerge from London Algerians the next morning or what Abu Hamza is going to say in his Friday sermon. Paris is very anxious that they will threaten France again.” The French are particularly worried that there will be an attack during the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998).
Kidnap Plan - The plan is essentially to kidnap Abu Hamza in front of his home while he is only protected by his sons, bundle him into a van, and then race for a French ferry docked at one of the Channel ports. Hassaine’s role in the plan is not well-defined; he may be required as a lookout or to create a distraction.
Assistance from British Authorities - Jerome says that the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 might be prepared to turn a blind eye to the operation, but the regular British police will not help with it: “In short, if anything went wrong, all hell would break lose.” Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “The scandal could be bigger than the blowing up of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in New Zealand. But such was the level of French frustration—from the minister of the interior downwards—with the British that all options were being counternanced.”
Many Other Intelligence Services Share Concerns - The French are not the only non-British intelligence service to be concerned about Abu Hamza’s activities. Agencies from Spain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands all tell their British counterparts that Abu Hamza is a terror leader, but the British take no action. Egypt even offers to swap a British prisoner for Abu Hamza, but to no avail. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123, 125-126, 288]
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]
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).
A spy working for Algerian intelligence is caught at the radical Finsbury Park mosque in London. The Algerians have been monitoring the mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997), for some time (see Early 1995) because of its connections to militants in Algeria (see Mid 1996-October 1997). The spy is caught recording Abu Hamza’s sermons, but details such as the spy’s identity and what happens to him are unknown. Abu Hamza will later laugh off the incident: “Not just them [the Algerians], but the Saudis, Egyptians, Iraqis, the Jordanians and Yemenis all have their secret services here. We have even caught them filming in the toilets, but these people cannot defeat us.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 80]
London’s Finsbury Park mosque hosts a lecture by a young radical who has trained in South Asia and fought in Kashmir, a region claimed by both India and Pakistan. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997), and he intends the talk to be part of the process of enticing radical Muslims to go and actually fight abroad. One of the group of about 40 listeners, Salman Abdullah, will later tell reporters about the evening. Following an introduction by Abu Hamza, the fighter—referred to only as Mohammed and himself a former attendee at the mosque—tells the listeners about his travel to South Asia, his training there, and then how he saw action in held Kashmir. He is praised highly by Abu Hamza for taking this final step and not just getting training.
'The Gullible and Confused' - Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will describe what Abu Hamza was doing: “Abdullah and the others were entranced, and Abu Hamza looked on contentedly. This is what he did best—open the door to jihadi groups around the world. Recruitment is a gradual process, and it begins crucially with manipulators like Abu Hamza. He takes the raw material, the gullible and confused, and decides whether these young minds and bodies can be shaped at training camps abroad, then sent on terror missions or employed to do other chores for the cause of Islamist extremism.”
'A Stepping Stone to Holy War' - O’Niell and McGrory will add: “Abu Hamza’s role at Finsbury Park was to instil self-belief among these boys, inflame them with his rhetoric and make them feel they had a purpose in life, namely to pursue the tested course he and other militants mapped out for them. Teenagers like Abdullah [were]… steered… to academies like Finsbury Park, which was fast earning a reputation as a magnet for radicals. Abu Hamza regarded his mosque as a stepping stone to holy war. Waiting inside Finsbury Park for the new arrivals were talent-spotters, men who had trained in Afghanistan or other war zones and whose job now was to weed out the poseurs and exhibitionists from the boys who might be some use.”
Under Surveillance - O’Niell and McGrory will also point out: “Foreign intelligence services knew this selection process was happening within months of Abu Hamza taking over in north London in March 1997. They had their own informants inside.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 76-79]
Following al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa, the CIA notices that the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate, has praised the attack on its website. Also noting Yemeni links to the bombing itself, the CIA turns its attention to the IAA and its leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. The CIA is assisted in this by the local Yemeni authorities. Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a begin to compile a dossier on Almihdhar and his links to the West, including his fundraisers and supporters in Britain. They identify Finsbury Park mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri, as “crucial” to the IAA’s operations. Almihdhar has a co-operation agreement with Abu Hamza (see (June 1998)) that provides him with money and recruits, and an IAA emissary will allegedly visit London in September (see September 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 163-164]
When asked why militant Islamic groups based in London never attack in Britain, leading imam Omar Bakri Mohammed says that he has a deal with the British government: “I work here in accordance with the covenant of peace which I made with the British government when I got [political] asylum.… We respect the terms of this bond as Allah orders us to do.” [Terrorism Monitor, 7/7/2005] Bakri will confirm this in a later interview: “The British government knows who we are. MI5 has interrogated us many times. I think now we have something called public immunity.” [MEMRI, 10/24/2001] Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will point out that other London imams, such as Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) and Abu Qatada (see June 1996-February 1997), had a similar arrangement: “The [imams] all claimed that Islamist radicals felt safe in London as they were protected by what they called the ‘covenant of security.’ This, they explained, was a deal whereby if extremist groups pledged not to stage attacks or cause disruption in [Britain], the police and intelligence agencies left them alone. British government ministers were appalled at the suggestion that they had entered into such a pact. But other countries were left to wonder aloud why [the British government] continued to ignore warnings that radical organizations were using London as a safe haven, and allowing these extremists to behave as if they were immune from prosecution.… To European eyes, these men seemed to do as they pleased.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 108]
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.
The British domestic counterintelligence service MI5 meets with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and informer (see Early 1997). They discuss “training camps” Abu Hamza’s mosque is organizing for Islamist radicals, although it is unclear if these camps are in Britain or overseas. One of his MI5 handlers informs him he is “walking a dangerous tightrope.” Another agent later notes, “I informed him that incitement even to commit terrorism and violence overseas was fraught with peril.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 146]
An emissary of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda affiliate, visits Finsbury Park mosque in London, according to an unnamed intelligence service. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, the emissary is “greeted like a hero” by Abu Hamza, addresses worshippers at the mosque, distributes leaflets, and collects money, presumably for jihad in Yemen. Abu Hamza and the IAA are co-operating closely at this time (see (June 1998)). The intelligence service, possibly the CIA or a local Yemeni service working with it, learns of this visit around the time it is made, and the visit is one reason it finds the London connection is “crucial” to the IAA (see After August 7, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
After being recruited to fight for radical Muslim causes by British intelligence informer and radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, August 1998, and August 1998 or Shortly After), Salman Abdullah leaves London and travels to Pakistan. One of Abu Hamza’s aides gives him an airline ticket, £700 in cash (about US$1,100), and a phone number in Islamabad to call when he arrives. He is taken by a contact for a month’s hard training, and then brought back to central Pakistan. Finally, he goes to the disputed region of Kashmir for three months and spends his time there “engaged in sporadic firefights” against Indian forces. Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Abdullah’s tour of duty guaranteed him a hero’s welcome on his return to north London. His stature as a ‘jihadi’ meant that Abu Hamza could employ him in a new role, as a propagandist, inciting others to follow his path.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 81-82]
Supporters of Shariah, a radical organization run by leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, issue a threat of attacks in Yemen. The threat, described by authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory as a “blustering communiqué,” is published in the group’s October 1998 newsletter. In language that is “juvenile and insulting,” the US military and other “unbelievers” are warned to leave Yemen or suffer the consequences. Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), has recently started working with the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see (June 1998)), a Yemen-based militant organization. The IAA will be near to implementing a massive plot in December involving close associates of Abu Hamza (see Before December 23, 1998 and December 23, 1998), but it is unclear if Abu Hamza is aware of this plot at the time the communiqué is published. Abu Hamza will follow up in the next month’s newsletter with more of the same, accusing a country he refers to as the “United Snakes of America” of plotting “a secret operation to target Muslim fundamentalists in the region.” He adds: “We see this as a powerful detonator for Muslims to explode in the faces of the Snakes of America. This will hopefully trigger a domino effect in the Peninsula. As observers have seen the more frequent explosions in the land of Yemen in the last four months, especially in the crude oil pipeline which is the blood for the American vampires.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 164]
A group of moderate Muslim community leaders tries to serve a court order instructing radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri and his followers to vacate Finsbury Park mosque. The community leaders and Abu Hamza, an informer for British intelligence against other Islamist extremists (see Early 1997), have been battling over the mosque for some time. On the first attempt to serve the order, one of Abu Hamza’s sons snatches the court papers and throws them away.
Second Attempt - On a second attempt a day later, the community leaders are ambushed on the stairs inside the mosque by a mob of Abu Hamza’s supporters, and two of them are physically thrown down the stairs. One of the ambushed men runs to the police standing outside the mosque’s gates and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory: “The officers heard the commotion, and could see these elderly men limping out of the door cut and bruised, but said that the court injunction gave them no power to arrest any of the mob inside.” The police, who had also refused to help earlier in the year, tell the startled community leaders that they have been aware for some time that Abu Hamza was the subject of previous injunctions from other mosques. They say the solution is to get an eviction order, although this will be costly and time-consuming, and they will do nothing against Abu Hamza in the meantime.
Trustees Give Up - The legal battles will continue for several months, after which Abu Hamza offers the community leaders a truce. However, he immediately breaks the truce and the leaders, exhausted, give up. Kadir Barkatullah, one of the management committee ousted by Abu Hamza, will say that he and others make a total of seven complaints to the police about Abu Hamza, but nothing is ever done. Although British Prime Minister Tony Blair will tell Muslim leaders to act against extremists in their local communities, according to Barkatullah, “When we did do precisely that with Abu Hamza, we were ignored.”
Incidents Continue - Despite the supposed truce, attacks on moderate Muslims associated with the mosque will continue; one of the community leaders is attacked in his shop with a baseball bat, and an imam is beaten unconscious inside the mosque. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 34-35, 46-47, 288]
Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over a second mosque in London, at Stockwell in the city’s south. He already controls the large Finsbury Park mosque in north London (see March 1997) and is working with British intelligence at this time (see Early 1997). Abu Hamza also expands his operations by preaching in other towns and cities in Britain. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Like a medieval monarch, Abu Hamza wasn’t satisfied with just Finsbury Park, and wanted to expand his fiefdom. His first step was to take his roadshow around the country, poisoning other mosques with his hateful creed then leaving it to hand-picked locals and some his Supporters of Shariah hard men to complete the takeover at mosques such as that in Stockwell, south London. He roamed the country with a convoy of cars, always with an entourage of minders in tow to whip up the crowd.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 48-49]
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]
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]
Radical imam and British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) defends the kidnapping of Western hostages in Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 28-29, 1998) in the British media. The IAA is an al-Qaeda affiliate (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000) and Abu Hamza acts as its press officer. Although it is unusual for radical Islamists to appear on television in Britain at this time, Abu Hamza does not shy away from the publicity. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will even call him a “publicity junkie,” and comment on his television appearances: “[Abu Hamza] tried to defend the indefensible by appearing on television and supporting the gunmen holding innocent Western hostages in the desert. Much of what he had to say in his strangled English about ‘jihad’ and martyrdom baffled his armchair British audience, most of who at the time had never heard of al-Qaeda.… He would stab his hook at the camera lens as he issued his bloodcurdling threats against politicians who did not heed his advice. His language was provocative, his demeanour threatening, but he had achieved one ambition—people in Britain suddenly knew the name of Abu Hamza.” His appearances do not go down well with the media, and, in O’Neill and McGrory’s words, he is “vilified .. after he admitted that he was the press officer for the kidnappers from the pompously named Islamc Army of Aden and Abyan.” Abu Hamza will later admit that this is the biggest mistake he ever makes. According to O’Neill and McGrory: “He [loses] friends and credibility, and [becomes] a marked man by the security authorities in Britain. But his standing with young British extremists [is] boosted.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 158-159, 172-173]
Following the exposure of a bomb plot (see December 23, 1998) and a kidnapping and murder (see December 28-29, 1998) in Yemen, local officials place most of the blame for the problems on British-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. According to authors Daniel McGrory and Sean O’Neill, local security official General Mohammed Turaik can “barely bring himself to mouth the name of Abu Hamza.” He is “almost incoherent with rage that the man he held responsible for the bloodshed was giving television interviews in London, and not standing in the dock of an Aden court to face his accusers.” Yemen compiles a large amount of evidence about Abu Hamza’s involvement, but also blames al-Qaeda-linked training camps in Afghanistan for altering the thinking of Yemenis who went there. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 170-171]
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]
Feroz Abbasi, a Uganda-born British resident who has recently embraced Islam, begins to frequent the Finsbury Park mosque, which is headed by radical imam Abu Hamza. He joins Abu Hamza’s organization, the Supporters of Sharia, but is told he is not yet ready to go and fight in Chechnya. He is gradually given small tasks at the mosque, and, after proving himself loyal by performing these tasks, Abu Hamza arranges for him to travel to Afghanistan for training there. After the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Abbasi will nearly succeed in blowing himself up with two Northern Alliance soldiers (see December 2000-December 2001). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 203-208]
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]
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]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading London-based radical cleric and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), calls for the overthrow of the government of Yemen, headed by President Ali Abdallah Saleh. This is part of a war of words after Yemen arrested Abu Hamza’s stepson and some other associates (see December 23, 1998) for allegedly planning attacks in Yemen. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 181]
Ten alleged operatives of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) go on trial in Aden, Yemen. Six of the men were arrested in December (see December 23, 1998), whereas four are arrested on the first day of the trial (see January 27, 1999).
Defendants - The men, eight Britons and two Algerians who previously lived in Britain, are linked to radical British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). For example, they include his son Mohammed Kamel Mostafa, his stepson Mohsin Ghalain, and Shahid Butt, an aide. The men initially confess, but later claim that the confessions were beaten out of them (see January 1999). Abu Hamza has numerous links to the IAA and spoke on the phone to its operational commander during a kidnapping organized to secure the release of the first six men captured (see (June 1998), October 1998, December 27, 1998, December 28-29, 1998, and December 28, 1998 and After).
British Links - The trial focuses on the men’s connections to Abu Hamza, as the Yemeni government places the blame for its domestic troubles on outside influences. The first sentence the prosecutor utters is, “This offence started in London in the offices of SoS [Supporters of Shariah] which is owned by Abu Hamza and who exports terrorism to other countries.”
Trial Descends into Chaos - The first day sets the pattern for the proceedings. The men’s translator mistakenly says the prosecutor is seeking the death sentence, and the court descends into uproar, leading to an adjournment after just 50 minutes. According to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, the trial is further marred by “constant interruptions, endless adjournments, inexplicable delays, and time-wasting.” However, a “drip-feed” of incriminating information from the men’s confessions and the evident links between Abu Hamza and the IAA turns the tide in favor of the prosecution.
Men Sentenced - All the men are found guilty. Ghalain and Malik Nasser are given the heaviest sentences of seven years. Butt gets five years for being a member of a terrorist gang, but Kamel only gets three. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “Every few minutes the judgement was punctuated by mentions of Abu Hamza, who the court was satisfied was deserving of most of the blame. That day his name, and not those of his followers, dominated the local headlines.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 177-184]
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]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri sends money to bin Laden’s Darunta camp, which is part of al-Qaeda’s network of training camps in Afghanistan. Abu Hamza, who is under investigation by Scotland Yard at this time for his involvement in a kidnapping and murder scheme in Yemen, apparently diverts the money from a fund at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which he runs. The US will later say it has e-mail traffic that proves the transfer. Abu Hamza trained at the camp in the mid-1990s. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 74-5]
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]
A top al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Doha arrives in London to take up a leading role in operations there. French intelligence chief Pierre de Bousquet de Florian will describe Abu Doha, an Algerian better known as “the Doctor,” as al-Qaeda’s main recruiting sergeant in Europe, adding that “it is not possible to over-emphasize his importance” because he is the “principal catalyst” for the establishment of a network of North African radicals across Britain, Europe, and North America. Abu Doha, who has already established a special section for North African trainees at the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, links up with Abu Hamza al-Masri, a local militant leader and radical imam who is an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997). He bases himself at Abu Hamza’s mosque, Finsbury Park, where he unifies rival Algerian factions, increasing the flow of funds and recruits sent to the camps in Afghanistan. After he is captured (see February 2001), a British judge at an immigration appeals tribunal will say: “In Afghanistan he had held a senior position in the training camps organizing the passage of mujaheddin volunteers to and from those camps. He had a wide range of extremist Islamic contacts inside and outside [Britain] including links to individuals involved in terrorist operations. He was involved in a number of extremist agendas. By being in [Britain] he had brought cohesion to Algerian extremists based here and he had strengthened the existing links with individuals associated with the terrorist training facilities in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 116-117]
Leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), calls on his followers to “kill the infidels” during a sermon delivered in Arabic in Finsbury Park mosque. He says: “When the forbidden months are past, it is a timed period, then fight and kill the infidels wherever you find them. He [Allah] did not say only here or here or here. Wherever you find them, except where it is forbidden like the Sacred Mosque. Wherever you find them, the kuffar is killed. Wherever you find them, take them and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 57-58]
James Ujaama, a follower of militant London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, contacts Abu Hamza from the US and offers the use of a ranch in the remote town of Bly, Oregon, as a militant training camp. Ujaama found out about the ranch through a friend, Sami Osman, who lives there with a group of radical Muslims. Abu Hamza is having problems in Britain due to tight firearms laws and the collapse of a scheme he had to send his recruits to Yemen for weapons training (see (June 1998)). Ujaama faxes Abu Hamza, saying that the ranch could be used to establish a training camp and that he and his associates are stockpiling weapons and ammunition. In addition, the ranch looks “just like Afghanistan” and Oregon is a good place for the camp because it is a “pro-militia and firearms state.” Finally, the ranch is good because, if Abu Hamza comes there, the unbelievers will not be able to remove him “without a serious armed fight.” Two leading associates of Abu Hamza will soon arrive to check the ranch out (see November 1999-Early 2000). Calls between Abu Hamza and the US are noted by the authorities around this time, although it is unclear if this fax is intercepted (see November-December 1999). Osman is under surveillance by the FBI until he moves to the ranch, but the FBI will lose him due to his relocation and only find him again after he is mentioned in a report by an Oregon policeman in the middle of December. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188-189]
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]
The ranch near Bly, Oregon. [Source: Seattle Times]Haroon Rashid Aswat and Oussama Kassir, assistants to leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, arrive in the US to assess the suitability of a proposed terrorist training camp. Upon arrival, they meet up with James Ujaama, another associate of Abu Hamza who proposed the camp (see October 1999) and its owner Sami Osman. Aswat is considered a close aide to Abu Hamza, who himself is an informer for the British (see Early 1997), and will later be described as the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings.
Unsuitable Facility - However, Aswat and Kassir are unhappy with what they find, especially as Ujaama does not have a key to unlock the gate to the ranch when they arrive. In addition, the ranch lacks food, running water, toilet facilities, and barracks, and only has a simple trailer on it. They stay at the ranch for about two months and conduct weapons training for around 15 militants present. According to a witness, Kassir brags that he is a “hit man” for Abu Hamza and Osama bin Laden and has had jihad training in Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Lebanon. Jihadi videos are shown and a computer disc with details of how to improvise poisons is displayed. In addition, a scheme for poisoning a water supply is discussed, as are armed robberies, building an underground bunker to conceal weapons, and firebombing vehicles.
FBI Investigation - However, on December 13 Osman’s car is stopped due to a faulty brake light and the police officer notices that two men, who turn out to be Aswat and Kassir, are acting strangely in the car. For example, Aswat clutches a briefcase closely to his chest as the police officer questions him. The FBI previously had Osman under surveillance, but has lost him. A database check performed by the officer alerts the FBI and an agent is immediately dispatched to Bly. He shows a surveillance photo of Aswat and Kassir to the officer, who identifies them as the other two men in the car. More FBI agents arrive to investigate the ranch, but, before they can raid it, Aswat and Kassir leave for Seattle. There, Aswat allegedly boasts of being bin Laden’s “hit man,” just as Kassir has done.
Advised to Abandon Ranch - Aswat and Kassir eventually return to Britain and advise Abu Hamza against putting any further effort into the ranch. Kassir will be arrested in the Czech Republic and extradited in 2007 to stand trial. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 7/31/2005; Seattle Times, 8/9/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 185-186, 194; Associated Press, 9/26/2007]
British authorities notice that leading London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is making a number of calls to the same number in the small town of Bly in Oregon, USA. Abu Hamza is an informer for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but they are monitoring him anyway. The Oregon number is for a mountain ranch where Abu Hamza intends to establish a terrorist training camp (see October 1999 and November 1999-Early 2000). The calls, made from Abu Hamza’s office in Finsbury Park mosque, lead the British to contact the local sheriff’s department to ask for information about the ranch. The department flies over it and sends a detective to take photographs, but nothing of significance is discovered. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 188-189]
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]
During a question and answer session after a speaking engagement in Blackburn, London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for the British authorities (see Early 1997), tells his followers that suicide bombings are okay. A young man in the audience asks if it is permissible to blow oneself up in the cause of the jihad. Abu Hamza replies: “It is not called suicide, it is called shahid operation. It is not called suicide, this is called Shahada, martyring, because if the only way to hurt the enemies of Islam except by taking your life for that then it is allowed.” He adds: “If he is a person who actually wants to go to paradise, if he’s sincere about the beautiful women of paradise which one day, insha’Allah, he will go to paradise and she will tell him ‘I used to watch you‘… This religion quenches this thirst with the blood of martyrs. This religion fires the people with the blood of its sons and if it wasn’t for those minority few, the weak in their armoury, strong in their blood and their faith, without them the world wouldn’t have shook.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 58]
British authorities repeatedly reject requests submitted by Italian judge Stefano D’Ambruoso, who wants to interview leading London-based radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. The requests are made because D’Ambruoso is surprised by how many times Abu Hamza’s name crops up in connection with terror inquiries in Italy. However, the Metropolitan Police, for which Abu Hamza works as an informer (see Early 1997), declines the requests, saying that it cannot force Abu Hamza to talk to D’Ambruoso. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 107-108] The Metropolitan Police had previously hampered an interview of Abu Hamza by French authorities (see 1997). The exact timing of the requests is not known, but links between terror cells based in Milan and London are discovered in 2000-2001 (see Early 2000-2001, Between 2000 and April 2001, and June 29, 2001), so they presumably begin to be submitted at this time. Britain has a “covenant of security” with Abu Hamza and other leading radicals which allows them to encourage militant operations outside Britain (see August 22, 1998).
A group of London radicals purchases communications equipment worth $335,000 for the Chechen rebels. One of the purchasers is Abu Doha, one of the most senior al-Qaeda members ever to have lived in Britain (see February 2001) and a worshipper at the Finsbury Park mosque of Abu Hamza al-Masri. The equipment includes 19 satellite telephones and 36 SIM cards with airtime. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 67-8]
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]
In a Friday sermon one day after the USS Cole was bombed with the loss of 17 lives (see October 12, 2000), leading radical imam and British intelligence informer (see Early 1997) Abu Hamza al-Masri encourages his followers to wage a global jihad (holy war). The sermon is nominally about the Palestinian intifada, which is in the headlines at this time, but Abu Hamza does not confine himself to this topic.
'If It Is Killing, Do It' - He says: “You must increase your action, you must increase your jihad, because when you wake up you wake the scholars up and when you and the scholars are woken up the tyrants are shaking… It’s time for you and me and everybody to sacrifice, it’s a time to prove that we are not here in the West just for the honey pot, just to take and not to give anything.” He adds: “My dear brothers, if you can go [on jihad] then go. If you can’t go, sponsor. If you can’t sponsor, speak. If you can’t do all of this, do all of that. If you can send your children, send them, you must help, you must have a stand. You must have a stand with your heart, with your tongue, with your money, with your sword, with your Kalashnikov, anything you think will help… don’t ask ‘Shall I do this, shall I do that?’ Just do it. Anything that will help the intifada, just do it. If it is killing, do it. If it is paying, pay, if it is ambushing, ambush, if it is poisoning, poison.”
'They Are All Kuffar' - Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Stop, rewind a second, and listen again. Abu Hamza was not just talking Palestine or the old jihad battlefields of the past. This was eleven months before the World Trade Center would be demolished and three thousand people killed in the worst terrorist atrocity the world had ever seen, and here was one of al-Qaeda’s most potent mouthpieces telling a congregation at Friday prayers in London to help their oppressed brothers, ‘in any way you like and anywhere you like. They are all kuffar [non-believers], and can all be killed. Killing a kuffar who is fighting you is OK. Killing a kuffar for any reason, you can say it is OK, even if there is no reason for it.’” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 55-57]
Leading British radical and informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) sends a computer to the Taliban’s foreign minister. The computer is part of a package of cash and hardware hand-delivered by Abu Hamza’s aide James Ujaama. According to testimony by FBI agent Fred Humphries, Abu Hamza sends the computer to “curry favor” with the Taliban. The cash is allegedly for a girls’ school in Khost, although Ujaama will later say that the school does not exist and it is unclear what happens to the money. Ujaama is accompanied on the trip by Feroz Abbasi, a recruit Abu Hamza is sending to Pakistan for military training (see December 2000-December 2001), although Ujaama does not accompany Abbasi all the way to his destination, angering Abu Hamza. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 196-197]
After being indoctrinated by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London (see 1999-2000), a recruit named Feroz Abbasi travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan for military training. On his journey to Pakistan he is accompanied by James Ujaama, who had tried to help Abu Hamza establish a militant training camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000). Before departure, Abu Hamza told Abbasi he would train with the Taliban, and that they would then expect him to fight for them, to which he agreed. After staying at an Islamic Jihad guest house in Kabul, for which Abu Hamza reportedly has the number, Abbasi undergoes basic training at Al Farooq camp, including instruction in weapons handling, battlefield maneuvers, and explosives. The camp is also visited by Osama bin Laden, who lectures the new recruits on politics. Abbasi later returns to Al Farooq for a more advanced course, covering reconnaissance, guerrilla warfare, and ambushes. After this, Abbasi, “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, and another man are interviewed by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Abbasi agrees to perform missions for Atef, which may include a suicide bombing. Abbasi then has even more advanced training, focusing on assassinations and running a sleeper cell, at a camp by Kandahar airport. At some time in September 2001, he explicitly volunteers for a suicide mission. However, he is captured by the Northern Alliance three months later. When caught, he has a grenade concealed on him and could detonate it, killing himself and the two Northern Alliance soldiers that captured him. He hesitates because he does not want to kill fellow Muslims, and the grenade is found. The Afghans then put him in prison in Kandahar for two days, before formally transferring him to the US military. He is held in a prison at Kandahar airport, and then flown to Guantanamo in Cuba, where he will be held for three years. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 201-202, 208-213]
After being convicted for his part in al-Qaeda’s failed millennium attacks (see December 14, 1999), Ahmed Ressam tells US authorities that London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is an important figure in al-Qaeda. Ressam says that he heard many stories about Abu Hamza when he was in Afghanistan and that Abu Hamza has the power to refer recruits to other senior al-Qaeda figures. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 28] Abu Hamza already has a relationship with British security services (see Early 1997).
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.
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]
British authorities learn of the arrest of top Islamist militant Djamel Beghal in Dubai (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and the CIA tells them that an operative behind a plot Beghal is helping organize, a bombing of the US embassy in Paris, has arrived in Britain. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 157] It is unknown who the operative behind the plot is and what action British authorities take on the matter, but arrests of people linked to Beghal and his associates are made around Europe in the next few months (see September 13, 2001, September 26, 2001 and March 2000-September 22, 2001). Beghal has been active in Britain for some time, in particular at London’s radical Finsbury Park mosque, which is under surveillance by the British (see 1997), and a group of his associates are arrested in Britain one day after his capture is made public (see March 2000-September 22, 2001). However, no action is taken against one of his key associates, Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is an informer for the British (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “Despite Beghal’s clear links to operations in London and Leicester, however, there was no search of the [mosque] building and no attempt to arrest the chief recruiter [Abu Hamza] who had led the prayers there. The mosque continued to be at the centre of jihad recruitment.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 94]
British radical leader and informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) sends £6,000 (about $9,000) to Afghanistan. The money is to be used to build a computer lab in Kandahar that can be used by Taliban officials and the general public. The money is sent by courier, an aide to Abu Hamza called James Ujaama. However, Ujaama is stopped by British authorities at the airport on his way to Pakistan, apparently because they are suspicious of his travel patterns and the amount of money he is carrying. Ujaama tells them the money is for a Taliban school and that he will go to Afghanistan even if he cannot get a visa, because this is easy. The officials are suspicious, but let him go, simply asking him to report to them on his return. However, Ujaama does not make it to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border before the 9/11 attacks and will return to London within a few weeks without delivering the money. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 197-198]
Britain passes the Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, a controversial piece of legislation whose provisions include a ban on sending another person abroad to undergo terrorist training and instruction. The measure was introduced in response to information indicating there were networks in Britain that sent radical Muslims to foreign camps, such as those in Afghanistan. One of the leaders of such a network was extremist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, an informer for British security services (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Yet even after the new laws were introduced, Abu Hamza’s followers continued to disappear off to camps run by outlawed groups, and still nobody in authority laid a finger on him.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 291]
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]
The assets of leading Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri are frozen by the Bank of England. This follows a designation by the United Nations that Abu Hamza is a person associated with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. However, the freeze has little practical effect on Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for the British security services for some time (see Early 1997). Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “This grandiose announcement meant that the Bank of England ordered a freeze on any bank accounts held in his name, and all welfare benefits he was entitled to receive were stopped. The sanctions sounded severe, but in practical terms they made little difference to Abu Hamza. The five-bedroom house in Shepherd’s Bush where he lived with his five youngest children was rented by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in the name of his wife Nagat, who obtained full British citizenship in 1997.” This means that Abu Hamza is able to keep his house, which will be renovated at the council’s expense in 2004. The British government also continues to meet his wife’s rent and council tax payments. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 73; Times (London), 10/12/2006]
The Charity Commission, which regulates the affairs of British charities, suspends leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri as an agent of the charity that runs London’s Finsbury Park mosque. The suspension results from a four-year inquiry into Abu Hamza’s mismanagement of the mosque (see 1998), and is apparently the first action the commission takes. However, it has no practical effect. Abu Hamza says he will appeal, but fails to file any documents for eight months. His lawyers then send a letter denouncing the commissioners for being Islamophobic. The commission will not succeed in removing Abu Hamza from his role with the charity until the next year, by which time the police have raided the mosque and closed it down (see January 20, 2003). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 286-287]
In 2002, federal prosecutors are building a case against a group of Islamist militants for attempting to start a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000). They prepare charges against radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, his “highly public aide” Haroon Rashid Aswat, Oussama Kassir (who visited the prospective camp with Aswat), and James Ujaama. Ujaama is living in Seattle, but the others are believed to be overseas. Seattle prosecutors want to seek a grand jury indictment against all of them, which would result in arrest warrants and possible detention for extradition. However, this plan is blocked by higher-level officials at Justice Department headquarters, who want most of the case to be handled by the US Attorney’s Office in New York City. Seattle prosecutors are only allowed to bring charges against Ujaama. [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] They go ahead and arrest Ujaama in August 2002, finding weapons and training materials, and charge him with conspiring with Abu Hamza “to provide material support and resources” to the Taliban. One of his associates, Feroz Abbasi, is already in Guantanamo Bay, and is talking to interrogators about trips Ujaama has made to Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001). Ujaama quickly agrees to co-operate with the authorities, giving them details about Abu Hamza’s activities, and is given a two-year sentence for a lesser offence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 189-190, 198-200] The others are merely listed in Ujaama’s indictment as unindicted co-conspirators. Abu Hamza has actually been working as an informant for British intelligence (see Early 1997), but by early 2004 his relationship with the British has soured (see April 2003 and April 26, 2004), and the US Justice Department will finally indict him for charges relating to the training camp in May 2004. However, Aswat still will not be indicted. When asked why Aswat is not indicted as well, a federal official in Seattle will reply with frustration, “That’s a great question.” [Seattle Times, 7/24/2005] Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), it will be widely reported that Aswat was the attack’s mastermind (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Then a counterterrorism expert will claim that Aswat was also an informant for British intelligence, and this explains why the US never indicted him and other mysteries surrounding him (see July 29, 2005).
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]
Mohammed Quayyum Khan. [Source: BBC]In March 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 begins monitoring Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”), a part-time taxi driver living in Luton, England, and born in Pakistan. He is said to be an associate of the radical London imams Omar Bakri Mohammed and Abu Hamza al-Masri. It is not known how MI5 first gains an interest in Quayyum, but apparently during a trip to Pakistan in 2003, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, tracks him overtly to warn him that they are aware of his activities. During a later court trial, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant named Mohammed Junaid Babar will allege that Quayyum:
Takes his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. He is said to be one of about three or four operatives working directly under this leader.
Arranges for Mohammad Sidique Khan, the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, to travel to Pakistan and attend militant training camp in 2003.
Provides funds and equipment for militants fighting US troops in Afghanistan.
Is the leader of the 2004 British fertilizer bomb plot. Five of Quayyum’s associates will be sentenced to life in prison for roles in this plot.
In early February 2004, MI5 first discovers the existence of the fertilizer bomb plot while it monitors the various plotters meeting with Quayyum (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). For instance, Omar Khyam, one of those who will later be sentenced to life in prison, is secretly videotaped meeting with Quayyum. Khyam will later admit that just before he left for militant training in Pakistan, Quayyum gave him money and said: “It’s better for both of us if we don’t meet each other. Because the security services may be monitoring me.” Yet when all the other members of the plot are arrested in late March 2004, Quayyum stays free. The Guardian will later report, “Despite the number of serious allegations leveled against him [in court], police and MI5 say they have never found sufficient evidence to arrest or charge him.” Quayyum is never questioned about his links to the fertilizer bomb plotters. After the 7/7 suicide bombings in 2005, he is not questioned about his verified links with the suicide bombers either (such as the monitored calls between him and the head suicide bomber (see Shortly Before July 2003)). He continues to live in Luton and is seen by a Guardian journalist working as a chef in a small cafe there. “He is thought to have since disappeared.” [Guardian, 5/1/2007; Guardian, 5/1/2007] Author Loretta Napoleoni will later comment that the lack of action against Quayyum is especially strange given the British government’s power to detain suspects for years without charge. She will say, “The press has proffered the hypothesis—neither confirmed nor denied by the special services—that Quayyum was a ‘Deep Throat’” mole or informant. [Antiwar (.com, 5/8/2007]
Items seized in a raid on Abu Hamza’s Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003. [Source: Daily Telegraph]After learning some information about the Islamist militant connections of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, British Home Secretary David Blunkett initiates a campaign against him. Blunkett introduces legislation to have Abu Hamza stripped of his British citizenship, which he acquired unlawfully (see April 29, 1986), and then either deported or interned. However, the British intelligence service MI5 fails to provide Blunkett with all the information it has about Abu Hamza, who has been an informer for MI5 and Special Branch since 1997 (see Early 1997 and Before May 27, 2004). Even after the relevant legislation is passed in April 2003, the process is drawn out by Abu Hamza, who appeals, delays the appeal process by not filing a defense, and then argues the government should pay his legal fees. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284-5] A hearing will be held on the case in April 2004 (see April 26, 2004).
Bombing damage at Mike’s Place. [Source: Associated Press]On April 30, two British citizens, Asif Hanif and Omar Sharif, attempt to bomb Mike’s Place, a cafe in Tel Aviv, Israel, located very close to the US embassy.
Hanif’s bomb goes off, but a security guard prevented him from entering the cafe, so just three people are killed and 65 are injured. Only Sharif’s detonator goes off, so he flees the scene, being chased by several people. He manages to run away, but his dead body is found in the ocean nearby two weeks later. A British inquest will later suggest he drowned, although why he did remains unknown. The two men are Britain’s second known Islamist suicide bombers (see December 25, 2000). They had lived in Britain most of their lives and only arrived in Israel a couple of weeks earlier, after a short stay in Syria. Hamas takes credit for the bombing and later shows a video of their last testaments in which Hanif states: “It is an honor to kill all these people. It is an honor.” [Daily Telegraph, 9/6/2006] The two are believed to have been members of the radical British militant group Al-Muhajiroun. The group’s leader, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, says Sharif had recently attended a course at his school, studying Islamic law. A reporter claims to have interviewed Hanif by chance at Al-Muhajiroun’s London office a month before the bombing. They also attended the Finsbury Park mosque, where radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri preaches. [Observer, 5/4/2003; ISN Security Watch, 7/21/2005; BBC, 7/9/2006] The pair apparently were featured in a recruitment video for Abu Hamza in March 2000. In 2002, a pair of activists working against Abu Hamza, Neil Doyle and Glen Jenvey, tricked Abu Hamza into sending them some recruitment videos, and one showed two masked men holding assault rifles claiming to be fighting in Bosnia. Only in 2004, after Hamas released the video of Sharif and Hanif’s last testaments, did it become clear they were the masked men in the 2000 video as well. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham UK), 9/19/2004] Mohammad Sidique Khan, the lead suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), traveled to Israel seven weeks before the bombing, and it is suspected he assisted the bombing in some way, because he had known the two men since at least 2001 (see Summer 2001 and February 19-20, 2003).
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: Toby Melville / Reuters]In proceedings to revoke the British citizenship of leading London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri (see April 2003), the British government submits evidence linking him to five established terrorist organizations at a tribunal hearing. Abu Hamza, who has informed for the British intelligence services MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997), is said to be linked to:
The Islamic Army of Aden, an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen;
The Algerian Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA);
Islamic Jihad, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri and then merged into al-Qaeda;
A Kashmiri group later involved in the London bombings; and
Given the nature of the allegations, authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “If the intelligence agencies already had a dossier like this, why was the cleric not in [court], instead of arguing about whether he could hang onto his British passport.” The hearing is adjourned until January 2005 so that Abu Hamza can ask the government to fund his defense. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 285] He will be arrested one month later because of a US extradition request (see May 27, 2004).
Top: training camp surveillance photo of Hussain Osman, one of the ‘copycat’ bombers. Bottom: training camp attendee practicing with a stick for a rifle. [Source: Metropolitan Police, Telegraph]On May 2, 2004, an off-duty British policeman named Paul Burke accidentally discovers a militant training camp in the Lake District region of Britain while jogging through the countryside. He sees a man shouting orders to a group of about 20 men as they line up and put backpacks on. The man leading the group is an Islamic preacher named Mohammed Hamid. A surveillance team is brought in and the training is observed and videotaped. Burke sees a similar group of men training at the same spot on May 29, and a surveillance team monitors several more days of weekend training. Muktar Ibrahim, Yassin Omar, Ramzi Mohammed, and Hussain Osman—the four men who will later go on to stage the failed 21/7 London bombings (see July 21, 2005), the attempt to copycat the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005)—are among the trainees who are monitored. They are seen conducting military type maneuvers, including training with mock rifles. MI5 records another weekend of training at the same spot in August. Muktar Ibrahim, the lead 21/7 bomber, is again monitored there. Atilla Ahmet, an imam who took over from Abu Hamza al-Masri as leader of the Finsbury Park mosque after Abu Hamza was jailed for incitement to murder, also sometimes attends the training camp. All four of the 21/7 bombers attend the Finsbury Park mosque, and two of them are photographed there—Ramzi Mohammed in January 2004 and Ibrahim in August 2004. All four are also photographed with Ahmet at some point. Hamid and Ahmet hold meetings together every Friday at Hamid’s house where they encourage new recruits to attend weekend training camps in the New Forest, the Lake District, or Scotland, and paintballing sessions in Berkshire and Kent. Head trainer Hamid and head 21/7 bomber Ibrahim are close to each other and jointly operate a stall selling Islamic literature in Oxford Street in London. In October 2004, both of them are arrested following a disturbance at their stall. Ibrahim is caught after trying to run from police. Hamid resists arrest and reportedly tells police, “I’ve got a bomb and I’m going to blow you all up.” At the police station, Hamid only identifies himself as “Osama bin London,” but a fingerprint check reveals his real name and an extensive criminal record for theft and burglary. However, Ibrahim and Hamid are merely charged and then released. Ibrahim will be stopped in December at a London airport while attempting to fly to Pakistan, and he will be recognized from the training camp surveillance photos, but he will be allowed to take his flight anyway (see December 2004). He will fail to turn up for his court hearing because he is in Pakistan, where he will study bomb making at a training camp. Authorities will not come in contact with him again until after the 21/7 bombings. Hamid will remain free after the 7/7 and 21/7 bombings and will brazenly continue leading the occasional weekend training camps. A bug will finally be placed in his house in September 2005. An undercover agent will pose as a new recruit and attend the training camp in 2006. Hamid will finally be arrested later that year. Hamid, Ahmet, and a number of their associates will be convicted of criminal activity relating to the training camp in 2008. The Telegraph will later comment, “Mohammed Hamid groomed the would-be [21/7] suicide bombers under the noses of watching police [and] security services.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/17/2007; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Daily Telegraph, 2/27/2008; Guardian, 3/8/2008]
US officials become discouraged about anti-terrorist co-operation with their British counterparts against leading London-based cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will write, “They were sick of handing over information to British agencies about Abu Hamza, only to see him being allowed to continue preaching hatred in front of the cameras.” A senior Justice Department official will say: “We just did not understand what was going on in London. We wondered to ourselves whether he was an MI5 informer, or was there some secret the British were not trusting us with? He seemed untouchable.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 294] The official’s speculation is correct, as Abu Hamza is indeed an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). In the end, the US will give up on waiting for the British to arrest Abu Hamza, and issue a warrant of their own (see May 27, 2004).
The British intelligence service MI5 develops information showing that London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has significant connections with radical militants, but fails to show this to Home Secretary David Blunkett. Blunkett apparently learns this information after Abu Hamza, who has been an MI5 informer (see Early 1997), is arrested in 2004 (see May 27, 2004). When Blunkett takes office in 2001, as he will later recall, there is an assumption that Abu Hamza “was a bigmouth and was worth tracking but wasn’t at the centre of events.” The security services have a “detailed trail” of networks, personal history, and high-level contacts showing that Abu Hamza is “a real threat and a danger,” but they do not tell Blunkett. He will reportedly be angry when he learns MI5 failed to inform him of the material. What material is provided to Blunkett and what is kept from him is unknown; MI5’s explanation for withholding the information is also unknown. Blunkett will later indicate that action should have been taken against Abu Hamza earlier: “It is clear now—and I think that those close to this would acknowledge it—that there were opportunities for having taken action. By putting the jigsaw together, it is possible for us to realize that this man was a danger becuase he was at the heart of organizing, glorifying, and persuading.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284, 291]
Some British politicians are unhappy over the arrest of leading Islamist radical Abu Hamza al-Masri (see May 27, 2004), for various reasons. The US is clearly aware that Abu Hamza is a very significant Islamist militant, and, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory: “[T]he question that hung uncomfortably in the air in Whitehall that afternoon was why [the British] government and its agencies had not appreciated the danger he posed, and done something about it. The unpalatable answer was that Britain had missed, or had chosen not to take, at least a dozen opportunities to act against Abu Hamza.” The arrest of Abu Hamza, who informed for two of Britain’s security services (see Early 1997), causes “considerable unease” in the cabinet; some ministers think Britain should be grateful to the FBI for “doing Britain’s dirty work,” whereas others think “Britain came out of the affair looking like America’s poodle.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 284]
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]
The US indicts leading radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, shortly after his arrest in Britian (see May 27, 2004). Abu Hamza is indicted on eleven counts, covering his part in a kidnapping scheme in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998), the recruitment of a radical named Feroz Abbasi to attend a training camp in Afghanistan (see December 2000-December 2001), and a conspiracy to open a jihad training camp in Oregon (see November 1999-Early 2000).
Alleged Contact with High-Ranking al-Qaeda Terrorists - At the extradition hearing, the lawyer acting for the US describes Abu Hamza as having “engaged in a systematic pattern of terrorist activity since at least 1998….” The lawyer also points out: “He is no less than a supporter and facilitator of terrorism. He has been in contact with and provided support for terrorist groups and people associated with terrorist groups… He has had contact with high-ranking terrorists in the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Abu Hamza declines to go to the US voluntarily and decides to fight the extradition request.
Indictment Is Media Event - The arrest and indictment is major news in the US and television programming is interrupted for a live press conference by Attorney General John Ashcroft. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “The Americans were jubilant, so much so that they insisted that daytime soap operas were interrupted to carry live television coverage of a press conference hosted by John Ashcroft, then Attorney General in the Bush administration. Ashcroft was joined on the platform by a crowd of smiling deputies, federal prosecutors, FBI officials and police chiefs. Just in case the public did not grasp the message, there was a huge portrait of Abu Hamza alongside them, caught in mid-rant, his one eye glaring, the steel hook raised.” Assistant Attorney General Christopher Wray calls Abu Hamza “a terrorist facilitator with a global reach,” and New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly says, “Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 282-5]
Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is again arrested. He is already in prison, but this is because he is awaiting proceedings on his extradition to the US, where he faces criminal charges (see May 27, 2004 and May 27, 2004). However, the British government decides it would look bad for Britain to hand over Abu Hamza for prosecution in the US for crimes committed in Britain. Therefore, the British want to try Abu Hamza at home, and the police are instructed, in the words of authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, to “build a case, and do it swiftly.” The police decide to use tapes of Abu Hamza preaching that they seized from his home in 1999 (see March 15-19, 1999) but later returned to him (see December 1999), as they now decide the tapes show Abu Hamza making inflammatory statements that reach the level of incitement to racial hatred and soliciting to murder. O’Niell and McGrory will comment: “America wanted to put Abu Hamza on trial for recruiting, financing, and directing terrorism, charges that could see him jailed for up to a hundred years. But British prosecutors chose to intervene and to accuse him of lesser offences, mostly under a century-and-a-half-old Victorian statute. The central charge was that he had crossed the boundaries of freedom of expression—the criminal equivalent of ignoring the park keeper’s ‘Keep off the grass’ sign. Somehow Britain managed to make it look as if Abu Hamza was getting off lightly again.” Abu Hamza will be charged with the offences two months later, and will be convicted in 2006 (see January 11-February 7, 2006). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 295]
Leading radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri performs a property transaction while in prison awaiting trial on terrorism charges (see May 27, 2004). This is despite the fact that Abu Hamza, an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), had his assets frozen by the British government in April 2002 (see April 2002). First, Abu Hamza sells a flat in Hammersmith, London, for £228,000 (about US$410,000). He had purchased the flat from the local government for £100,000 in 1999 under legislation allowing council tenants to buy property. He then uses the money to purchase a semi-detached house for £220,000 in another part of London. At this time, Abu Hamza is using government money to pay for the costs of his legal defense, estimated to be already over £250,000 (about US$450,000), under the legal aid scheme, which provides funding to people thought to be too poor to be able to afford proper legal representation. The transaction is uncovered by investigators working for the Legal Services Commission, which administers legal aid. Conservative Party homeland security spokesman Patrick Mercer says, “This is outrageous and makes an utter mockery of how the chancellor [Gordon Brown] has slipped up in dealing with terrorist financing.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 74; Times (London), 10/12/2006]
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).
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]
Radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is put on trial in Britain. Before the jury was sworn in, the defense had tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that Abu Hamza’s notoriety was such that no jury could possibly approach the evidently impartially. However, these arguments were dismissed by the judge, Sir Anthony Hughes.
Charges of Murder, Racial Incitement - The charges include nine counts of soliciting to murder; three for encouraging followers to murder Jews, and six for encouraging them to murder “a person or persons that did not believe in the Islamic faith.” Four other counts are for using “threatening, abusive, or insulting words or behavior with intent to stir up racial hatred.” These charges are based on videos confiscated from Abu Hamza in which, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he rages “against the decadent West, the treacherousness of Jews, the waywardness of women, the accursedness of homosexuals, the corruption of Muslim rulers, and the idleness of ordinary Muslims who had not yet gone to wage war for Allah.” The other two charges deal with his possession of the tapes themselves, and of an 11-volume encyclopedia of jihad.
Encyclopaedia of Jihad - The charge sheet describes the encyclopedia as “a document which contained information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism,” and the prosecutor describes it as “a manual, a blueprint for terrorism.… It contains anything anyone would ever need to know if they wanted to make home-made bombs or explosives.”
Disapproval of Court - Abu Hamza demonstrates his disapproval of the court in two ways: when he takes the witness stand he swears a secular oath, refusing to use the Koran in an infidel court; and he also refuses to stand at the end of each day as the judge departs. Even if he were to be acquitted, he would probably not be released, as deportation proceedings to the US have only been suspended because of the trial. An acquittal would also lead to renewed attempts by the British government to strip him of his British citizenship.
Koran Defense - Abu Hamza’s defense is that he was merely interpreting certain verses from the Koran, which, according to his lawyer, contains “the language of blood and retribution.” He alleges that simply reminding his listeners of these verses cannot be incitement to murder, and that his statements should be viewed against the context of events in the 1990s, when Muslim were under pressure in Kosovo, Kashmir, and Palestine.
Hamza's Testimony - Abu Hamza himself is put on the witness stand for five days from January 19, but, according to authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory, he treats it “as if it were a pulpit,” reciting Koranic verses and trying to dictate the direction of the discussion. Some of the things he says are damaging to him, for example he thinks the Jews control the media and banks, as well as having a hold over Western political leaders. He admits running a newsletter for Algerian radicals and being in constant telephone contact with their leaders (see Before October 1997), but claims he never actually read the encyclopedia of jihad because he is not a military man. He also says he had no idea that tapes of his sermons were being sold around Britain, nor can he recall the places he has preached up and down the country. He was an informer for MI5 and Special Branch (see Early 1997) and told them about his preaching. They said it was okay, so he simply carried on with it.
Hamza Convicted - He is convicted on 11 counts and acquitted on four, three of soliciting to murder, and one of inciting racial hatred. He gets seven years’ imprisonment for each of the six counts of soliciting murder, 21 months each for the three charges of inciting racial hatred, three years for possessing the tapes, and three and a half years for possessing the encyclopaedia. However, these sentences will run concurrently, meaning he will only be in jail for seven years. US authorities say that after he is released they may request his extradition to the US for crimes he is wanted for there (see May 27, 2004). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 168-169, 296-313]
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