Finsbury Park mosque's terrorist roll call

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The Independent Online

The notorious Finsbury Park mosque became a breeding ground for terrorism during the six years that Abu Hamza held a "controlling influence" there.

Dozens of anti-terrorism investigations led detectives back to the north London building, which became known as a first port of call, a meeting place and a haven for terror suspects arriving and operating in the UK.

The list of those linked to the mosque features the names of some of the most dangerous terrorists to have been captured by the authorities in recent years.

The shoebomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th" 9/11 hijacker, were among the angry young Muslims who went there.

Hamza, as the imam of the mosque and its central figure, wielded a powerful influence over those who passed through its doors.

During his Old Bailey trial, it was alleged he became a "recruiting sergeant for terrorism and murder", preaching hate to a "tinderbox" congregation.

His persuasive oratory and virulent anti-western rants inspired scores of impressionable young Muslims and he soon became a magnet for radicals worldwide.

Many were even dossing down at the mosque for a time - including the police killer and al Qaida suspect Kamel Bourgass - as it became a hotbed of extremism.

According to senior security sources, Hamza was far from the harmless demagogue that some mistakenly portrayed him as.

"It would be a mistake to regard him as a buffoon," a senior police source said.

"That is tempting because he has become something of a caricature image, but that is not right. To say he is divorced from operational terrorist activity entirely would be wrong.

"He was an influential character. That should not be diminished."

Security sources say Hamza was a key figure in the global jihadi movement in the late 1990s and early part of this decade, with an extensive sphere of influence.

While he held sway, Finsbury Park mosque became a shelter for radical young Muslims arriving in Britain from abroad.

"There were an awful lot of people who came into the country, and it would seem that one of their first ports of call was Finsbury Park, to get orientated and get contacts and the like," the police source said.

Hamza was a crucial figure in "enabling and facilitating" these people and allowing them "to congregate, to meet and have mutual support in London".

"The mosque was clearly known far and wide as a place to come, a place to meet and a safe haven," the source added.

The US accuses Hamza of having links to high ranking Taliban and al Qaida figures and of helping young recruits to travel to the terror network's training camps in Afghanistan.

"I think there is little doubt that he had a role in facilitating that," the police source said. "But you cannot put a number on it."

Soon, anti-terrorist detectives began to realise that, much like a spider's web, a large proportion of their investigations into extremist activity pointed them in the direction of the mosque.

"Many, many investigations into extremist networks and terrorist activity here found themselves with links or connections to the mosque during that period," the senior police source revealed.

"I do not think it is a co-incidence that so many terrorist investigations have led us to that building during that time."

He continued: "If you drew a chart of global terrorism, you would be able to draw many, many linkages into Finsbury Park, not because they were necessarily coming there and plotting, because they were meeting like minded people - it was somewhere to come when they first came to London."

When police finally raided the mosque in January 2003, they found an array of terrorist paraphernalia, including nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protective suits, blank firing weapons, a stun gun and a CS canister.

Detectives suspect the material had been used in terror training camps in the UK.

Among the terror suspects linked to the mosque were:

* Richard Reid - British-born Reid tried to detonate a shoebomb on a transatlantic flight from Paris to Miami in late 2001, but was overpowered by passengers as he tried to ignite the explosives. He was later jailed for life by an American court.

* Zacarias Moussaoui - a French Moroccan, Moussaoui is the only person to have been charged in the US over the 9/11 attacks. He claimed he was not part of the 9/11 plot itself, but of a wider conspiracy to attack the White House and said he was personally chosen by Osama bin Laden for a plot to crash planes into US buildings.

* Kamel Bourgass - an Algerian, also known as Nadir Habra, Bourgass was convicted last year of conspiracy to cause a public nuisance over an alleged plot to manufacture the deadly poison ricin. After a raid on the flat in Wood Green, north London, at the centre of the plot, Bourgass fled and went into hiding at a flat in Manchester. He stabbed Detective Constable Stephen Oake to death and seriously injured three other police officers as he tried to escape. He has been jailed for life. Bourgass was dossing down there in the weeks before his attempts to make ricin were discovered. Senior security sources believe it is "more than likely" he met Hamza.

* Feroz Abbasi - he is thought to have worshipped at the mosque, before allegedly being sent by Hamza to attend terror training camps in Afghanistan. Abbasi, from Croydon, south London, was later detained as an "enemy combatant" and sent to the US naval detention base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. He returned to Britain last year and after being questioned by police, was released without charge.

* Abu Doha - an Algerian, whose real name is Amar Makhlulif, Doha, who is also known as The Doctor, was arrested in February 2001 trying to leave Heathrow for Saudi Arabia on a fake passport. He is still fighting extradition to US over the alleged "millennium plot" to blow up an airport in Los Angeles. According to US, Doha won permission from Osama bin Laden to set up the Khalden terror training camp in Afghanistan where hundreds of Algerian terrorists emerged from. He then based himself in London where Finsbury Park mosque was a focal point for the Algerian community.

* Rabah Kadre - Kadre, known as "Toufik", took over control of the Abu Doha network when the boss was detained. Mohamed Meguerba, Bourgass's alleged co-conspirator in the ricin plot described meeting Kadre at Finsbury Park mosque. Kadre is now in jail in the UK fighting extradition to France over his alleged connections with other members of the Doha network, who allegedly plotted to blow up a Christmas market in Strasbourg.

* Djamel Beghal - he is said to have recruited Richard Reid, Zacarias Moussaoui and Nizar Trabelsi as suicide bombers at the Finsbury Park mosque. He was later arrested in Dubai and jailed over an alleged plot to attack the US Embassy in Paris. Beghal is now in jail in France. In a separate court case in the UK, prosecutors said that Beghal was so extreme he was once viewed as "beyond the pale" even by Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida.

* Nizar Trabelsi - a Tunisian ex-footballer who hung out at Finsbury Park mosque and volunteered to become a suicide bomber. He was later jailed in Belgium for plotting to attack the Kleine Brogel Nato airbase.

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