London sheikh linked to Yemen accused is arrested

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THE MUSLIM cleric at the centre of allegations over Islamist terrorism operating from Britain was last night being questioned by anti- terrorist squad officers.

Sheikh Abu Hamza was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act early yesterday morning at his home in west London. He and two other men arrested at different addresses were taken to Charing Cross police station in central London. Police can question the men for 48 hours without charging them or seeking an extension.

Mr Hamza, 40, was at the centre of controversy earlier this year over allegations that terrorists were operating out of London. His group, Supporters of Shariah, which is based in a north London mosque, had said it supported armed action.

In particular Mr Hamza, who was born in Alexandria, has had his name linked to an alleged plot to blow up various targets in Yemen. One of five men currently being tried for conspiring to cause explosions in Yemen is Mr Hamza's stepson, while his son has been arrested on similar charges.

Mr Hamza admitted he spoke to the head of the gang who seized a dozen Western tourists - three of whom were later killed - on the day of the kidnapping last December.

Since the arrest of his family members, the one-eyed cleric who said he lost both his arms while fighting with the mujahedin in Afghanistan, has denied any knowledge of such a plot. He has persistently accused the Yemeni government of spreading propaganda and obtaining confession through torture, an allegation supported by the five men's lawyers.

Last night Mr Hamza's supporters said he had been arrested along with two other Egyptians. They named one as Yasir As-Sirrie, also known as Abu Ammar, head of the Islamic Observatory Centre in London.

A spokesman for the Supporters of Shariah, Haroon Rashid, said: "He [Mr Hamza] has only been arrested for questioning involving terrorist activities here. He has done no terrorist activities here."