Police find stun gun and CS gas in mosque raid

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The Independent Online

Police seized a stun gun, an imitation weapon capable of firing blanks and a CS gas canister during a raid yesterday on a London mosque that has been branded a recruiting ground for international terrorism.

Police seized a stun gun, an imitation weapon capable of firing blanks and a CS gas canister during a raid yesterday on a London mosque that has been branded a recruiting ground for international terrorism.

Officers also found large numbers of passports, identity cards and credit cards and took away documentation and computers from the Finsbury Park mosque. Detectives were last night questioning seven men – six North Africans, aged 23 to 48, and a 22-year-old from Eastern Europe – who were arrested at the mosque under the Terrorism Act 2000.

The raid, which involved two helicopters and 150 officers in body armour using battering rams to enter the building at 2am, provoked fury among radical Islamic leaders and concern from moderate Muslim groups. But Tony Blair's official spokesman said: "The police have the full support of the Government in taking whatever action they feel they need to take in pursuit of their investigations."

Scotland Yard confirmed that the raid – codenamed Operation Mermant – followed directly from the recent discovery of the poison ricin at a flat in nearby Wood Green on 5 January. No chemicals were found at the mosque. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: "Evidence gathered during recent counter-terrorist investigations in London and elsewhere has uncovered links between the premises and suspected terrorist activity. Such evidence has made this operation absolutely necessary at this time."

There has been concern for several years that the Finsbury Park mosque was being used to encourage young Muslims to take up arms in a holy war. Among past worshippers at the building are the "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, who faces life imprisonment next week when he is sentenced for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet, and Zacharias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker on 11 September.

The mosque was founded in 1991 by Muslims from the Indian subcontinent, but it was hijacked by extremists, including the cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, a former mujahedin fighter in Afghanistan. Scotland Yard said Abu Hamza had not been a target of the operation.

Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Andy Trotter said police would tackle terrorist suspects "wherever they may be".He added: "This was a very carefully planned operation. We briefed our officers on the sensitivity needed."