New terror link to Briton held prisoner in Yemen

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A SON and step-son of a leading Muslim cleric based in London are at the centre of allegations linking British Islamists to a terror campaign in the Yemen.

The Independent has learnt that Mohsin Ghalain, 18, one of five Britons due to be charged either today or tomorrow over a plot to blow up Western targets in the Yemen, is the step-son of Sheikh Abu Hamza, imam at a mosque in north London. Mustapha Hamza, 17, a son of Sheikh Hamza, is also wanted by the Yemeni authorities who claim he fled when he learnt he was being hunted.

The revelations follow the statement by the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, in the Commons yesterday of the imminent moves against the "Birmingham Five" as he announced the appointment of a new anti-terrorism expert to help free British hostages abroad.

In his statement, Mr Cook said that Abdul-Karim al-Iryani, Yemen's Prime Minister, had given his personal assurance that the men would be charged within the next 48 hours.

The revelations will add to the diplomatic row ensuing between Britain and Yemen over the five Britons, who were arrested on Christmas Eve for an alleged plot to attack targets including the British consulate in Aden.

Sheikh Hamza said yesterday he had not heard from Mustapha since he left Britain six weeks ago, purporting to pursue his Islamic studies in Saudi Arabia. He added that he believed his step-son had been tortured by the authorities who he said were trying to force a confession from him. "I am sure they have been torturing him to make him admit to something he did not do," he said.

Based at the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park, Sheikh Hamza runs an organisation called Supporters of Shariah which acts as a mouthpiece for various Islamic groups.

Sheikh Hamza was telephoned by Abu Hassan, head of a rebel group who seized 12 British tourists in Yemen, the day they kidnapped them. He said they were acting in response to British and American action against Iraq.

Dr Iryani had also promised that no force would be used to rescue John Brooke, the British oil worker kidnapped on Saturday by Yemeni tribesmen, without prior consultation with the UK.

His pledge follows a letter from the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, demanding that he ensure that there will be no repeat of the bungled rescue attempt that saw three British tourists lose their lives in a shoot-out with terrorists last month.

The families of the British men, Shahid Butt, 33, Malik Nassar Harhra, 26, Samad Ahmed, 21, Ghulam Hussein, 25, and Mohsin Ghalain, 18, vigorously deny the allegations against them.