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Hamza's terror web in the heart of London - still open for business

February 7, 2006

Hamza's web of terror in heart of London
By John Steele, Crime Correspondent
(Filed: 08/02/2006)

After the World Trade Centre attacks, anti-terrorist agencies woke up to a central truth about Islamic extremism that they should have grasped years before - that words alone were a radicalising force and that the men who uttered them were far from harmless purveyors of hot air.

No one illustrated this better than Abu Hamza, one of the noisiest figures in "Londonistan", the community of radical Muslim groups who organised, raised money and planned terror in countries which complained bitterly to Britain about its apparent unwillingness to tackle them.

Abu Hamza graphic
Click to enlarge

For years - and with evident impunity from police action - Egyptian-born Hamza, a self-styled cleric, used his position as "imam" at Finsbury Park mosque to pour out hate and encourage young Muslims to join the international jihad.

Some of the recorded speeches which led to his conviction yesterday were seized from him in the late 1990s but handed back. He was warned, effectively, to stay on the right side of the law.

Those recordings had been taken during an inquiry into alleged links to terrorist kidnappings in Yemen in 1998, in which four people died. Hamza was not prosecuted, although the United States wants to extradite him in connection with the kidnappings.

A senior security source conceded: "It was then about straightforward suspected terrorism in Yemen. In that period we had not yet woken up to the radicalising power of words in Islamic terrorism."

The thinking of police and MI5 was still influenced heavily by its experience of 30 years of "old-fashioned" IRA bombs and bullets.

After September 11, the authorities began to realise that the political and ideological mainspring of Irish republican violence bore little resemblance to the motivation at play in Islamic terror.

Some young men were so devoted to their twisted vision of Islam that they could be inspired by the words of extremist Muslim "spiritual" figures to kill themselves and thousands of others in the name of their faith. The words of inspiration became essential to terrorist plots.

In 2002, MI5 and Scotland Yard began to investigate suspected large-scale fraud by Algerian groups to raise funds for jihadi "soldiers" who had been bombed out of their camps in Afghanistan by coalition forces after the attacks on New York and Washington.

In the process they also unearthed a plot to attack targets in Britain, with ricin. It became clear to the British authorities that "Londonistan" was no longer immune to Islamic terror attacks.

This development led directly to Finsbury Park, where, it can now be seen, Hamza and his cronies had hijacked part of the building and had, for years, run an extraordinary operation that drove out moderates, kept police at bay and allowed extremists and terrorists to pass through at will.

Among them were Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber", and Kamel Bourgass, the ricin plotter and police killer.

In the hunt for evidence for the ricin trial, Scotland Yard in January 2003 raided the mosques. Hamza was not directly linked to the ricin case, but police found items including blank-firing weapons, CS spray, a stun gun, protective suits and a gas mask, and false passports.

Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard's anti-terrorist branch, summed it up yesterday as "almost like a honey pot for extremists".

From the raid onwards, the tide turned against Hamza, and other rabble-rousers like him. In 2003, "Sheikh" Abdullah El-Faisal, a firebrand cleric who had converted to Islam, was jailed for urging his followers to kill non-Muslims.

In 2004, the US issued extradition proceedings against Hamza, labelling him a "terrorist facilitator with global reach". The recordings seized in the late 1990s and more recent speeches were collected. The new consensus that Muslim extremist words should not be ignored began to shape legal thinking.

The Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, made clear that Hamza should be tried in the UK if the evidence existed, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald, felt that the Hamza material, including the older speeches, clearly justified prosecution.

In October 2004, he was charged and appeared at the Old Bailey. Hamza's changing fortunes echoed those of two other prominent, British-based clerics - Abu Qatada, the man dubbed Osama bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe", and Omar Bakri Mohammed.

Qatada, a subtle but powerful spiritual guide to European jihadists whose speeches were found in the Hamburg flat of some of the September 11 hijackers, has been locked up without trial for several years and faces deportation to Jordan. He, too, was once looked on as essentially a source of radical noise and he was tolerated and visited by MI5.

Last year, after making inflammatory remarks and speeches over a prolonged period, Bakri Mohammed went to Lebanon and was told that he would not be allowed to return.

The 2003 raid on the Finsbury Park mosque, the ricin trial last year and now the jailing of Hamza are the final paragraphs in a key chapter of Britain's terrorist history. However, a new and more dangerous chapter has since opened.

Finsbury Park was not known as a magnet for radical, British-born, Pakistani-background extremists, such as those who killed 52 people in London in July last year. The hunt for those who inspired the July suicide bombers has yet to throw up anyone as loud and obvious as Hamza

Tuesday, February 7, 2006 Last updated 4:08 p.m. PT

Cleric linked to 9-11 plotter sentenced


LONDON -- A radical Muslim cleric linked to Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui was sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday for inciting followers to kill non-Muslims when he led a London mosque.

Abu Hamza al-Masri also faces terrorism charges in the United States, and a Justice Department spokesman said the U.S. "stands ready to resume extradition proceedings" when the British case is completed.

In Tuesday's sentencing, Judge Anthony Hughes told al-Masri that his sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque, attended by Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid, had endangered people around the world.

"You helped to create an atmosphere in which to kill has become regarded by some as not only a legitimate course but as a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice," the judge said.

Moussaoui pleaded guilty last year to plotting with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings and faces trial in the U.S. on terrorism conspiracy charges. Reid was convicted of attempting to blow up an American Airlines flight in 2001 with a shoe bomb.

The one-eyed, hook-handed al-Masri sat impassively in the wood-paneled dock as the jury foreman read out guilty verdicts on 11 of 15 counts, including incitement to murder, fomenting racial hatred, possessing a terrorist document and possessing abusive recordings. He had faced a maximum of life in prison.

Hughes sentenced al-Masri to seven years on the most serious charges of soliciting murder and allowed him to serve his sentences on the other charges concurrently.

"I am quite satisfied that you are and were a person whose views created a real danger to the lives of innocent people in different parts of the world," he said.

Defense attorneys said al-Masri planned to appeal. Defense lawyer Muddassar Arani said al-Masri believed he was "a prisoner of faith, and this is a slow martyrdom for him."

A supporter in the public gallery shouted "God bless you Sheik Hamza" as the cleric was led from the courtroom. Others shouted to him in Arabic.

Authorities in Britain and the United States accuse al-Masri of being at the center of a web of terrorist activity from the 1990s until police raided the Finsbury Park mosque in 2003.

He has been charged in the United States on an 11-count indictment with trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, conspiring to take hostages in Yemen and facilitating terror training in Afghanistan.

Under British law, the domestic charges took precedence over the extradition case, but al-Masri could now be sent to the United States for prosecution.

In Washington, U.S. Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said the United States "stands ready to resume the extradition proceedings against Abu Hamza when British law allows."

In his trial at London's Central Criminal Court, al-Masri, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, faced charges of soliciting the murder of others, "namely a person or persons who did not believe in the Islamic faith."

He was also charged with "using threatening or abusive language designed to stir racial hatred, possessing threatening or abusive recordings, and possessing a document likely to be useful in terrorism - the 'Encyclopedia of the Afghani Jihad.'"

The cleric, who says he lost his eye and both hands in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation, became a high-profile radical and a hate figure for British tabloids, who called him "Dr. Hook."

After he was expelled from the mosque by administrators in 2003, he led Friday prayers in the street until his 2004 arrest on a U.S. extradition warrant. He has been detained in the high-security Belmarsh prison.

During the trial, al-Masri, who has called the Sept. 11 attacks a Jewish plot and the invasion of Iraq a war on Islam, denied any involvement in violence, saying he was only a spokesman for political causes.

But prosecutor David Perry told the jury that al-Masri "was a recruiting sergeant, a recruiting officer for terrorism and murder."

Defense lawyer Edward Fitzgerald told jurors that although some of what the radical preacher said was offensive and "a bit over the top," he was not "intending to incite anybody to do anything specific."

Attorney General Lord Goldsmith, the government's chief legal adviser, said that while free speech was important, "encouraging murder and inciting hatred against others because of their race will never be tolerated."

But a Muslim leader said the verdict would trouble some in the Muslim community.

"This is creating an environment that can only further alienate the Muslim community," said Massoud Shadjareh, chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission.

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