Terrorist training camps might exist in UK
LONDON: Police say that they uncovered evidence of terrorist training camps in Britain after raiding Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri's north London mosque, which they believe was a global magnet for Islamic militants.
Police said that they have had evidence of the camps for years, but it could not be disclosed until Tuesday after the end of a trial at which the cleric was convicted of 11 charges, including soliciting murder and possessing a terrorist training manual. In January 2003, about 150 British police staged a dramatic raid on Finsbury Park Mosque as part of their investigation into a plot to make the deadly poison ricin at a nearby north London apartment.
Inside the mosque, they discovered gas masks, chemical, biological and nuclear protective suits, blank passports, hunting knives, and blank-firing weapons. "The suspicion of the anti-terrorist branch was that this was probably material used in training camps in the UK," a police source said. "We've never been able to pinpoint their locations, who was running them or what sort of activities that were going on, but that is the conclusion."
Nobody from the mosque has ever been charged with possessing the items or has been conclusively linked to camps. Police said that they had no idea how serious any British camps were, whether they were simply "weekends away" or something more formal. However, it is the first time police have described training that they believe took place inside the country.
Previously, authorities have focused on recruits travelling to Al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where three of the Britons who carried out last the July 7 suicide bomb attacks on London's transport system are thought to have spent time. Two of the four July 7 bombers, the group's leader Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were pictured on what is believed to have been a team-building white-water rafting holiday in Wales just weeks before the attacks. "It could have been something like that, but we don't know," the source said.
Hamza himself has never been directly linked to any terrorism plot, but among the followers who worshipped at his mosque were convicted "shoebomber" Richard Reid and "20th hijacker" Zacarais Moussaoui. "The mosque itself comes into dozens of international extremist and anti-terrorist investigations across the world" the source said. "It was seen and known as a safe haven to meet like-minded people, somewhere to get connections and to get orientated. What we were finding was that people were coming into Britain and their first port of call was the Finsbury Park Mosque. It wasn't necessarily always being used for plotting, but it was a good place to get yourself centred."
The inflammatory speeches by Hamza – who lost both hands and an eye in Afghanistan – have long provoked the hatred of Britain's tabloid press, leading to headlines such as "Hook off, Hooky" and "Sling your hook".
But in private he is said to be calm, polite and thoughtful. "It would be a mistake to regard him as a buffoon. He's become something of a caricature in the media and that isn't the right perception of him," the source said.
The source added that he had become very adept at avoiding possible criminal charges, citing an occasion when he said during a sermon outside the mosque: "What burns better than petrol? A British soldier". reuters