Abu Hamza trial: London was rife with Islamic militancy in 1990s, claims cleric

Former Finsbury Park imam tells how he lost hands and eye helping Pakistani army

US Editor

Abu Hamza, the former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, who is on trial in New York on terror charges, has testified that he lost an eye and both hands in 1993 assisting the Pakistani army to experiment with liquid explosives at a military residential compound in the city of Lahore.

In a second day of testimony for the defence, Abu Hamza, 56, gave for the first time a full account of what occurred that stood at odds with rumours that had implied an accident inside Afghanistan, possibly involving his preparing explosives for a military operation there. “This is exactly what happened: I am under oath,” the cleric said of the account when pressed by his defence lawyer, Joshua Dratel.

Abu Hamza also described London as a city rife with “lots of militancy” in the late 1990s, when he first ran a small Islamic centre in Luton and, from 1997, became the imam at Finsbury Park. “It was called ‘Londonistan’,” he told the jury, saying the capital was filled with competing Islamic factions – some of them with dangerous, radical, militant tendencies. “You had to compete with the language of radicalism,” he added.

The defence has portrayed its client as a preacher who had to use extremist rhetoric to get the ear of followers to preach his own message. He said his purpose was to pre-empt violence. “The law would also allow a lot of things. London had the IRA and at the same time they killed the cousin of the Queen,” he declared, adding: “You only need two or three mad from all the people to see bombs.”

Abu Hamza, who is facing 11 counts of terrorism-related charges involving support for efforts to set up an Islamic jihad training camp in Oregon and conspiring to kidnap a tour group in Yemen in 1998, said with regard to his earlier years abroad media reports of his having fought, particularly in support of the mujahedin in Afghanistan, had been overstated.

“I wish I had,” he said. “The media exaggerated. Unfortunately, the reputation is greater than the reality.”

He said that during his time in Afghanistan, working as an engineer for a Saudi Arabian charity, he had only fired “a couple of bullets” towards forces of the then Communist regime in Kabul.

It was after he left Afghanistan and moved to Peshawar in Pakistan that he was given a contract by the Pakistani army to assist with a road project and he was taken to Lahore to finish designs that would involve some use of explosives, he said. At a table outside a military villa, he was briefly left alone with three containers containing explosive fluids. He had been told that if anything went wrong the materials should be thrown into a nearby toilet.

He said he became concerned that silver foil around one container might be dangerous and he picked it up. “I felt it getting warm,” he testified. “I didn’t know how much time I had – I just wanted to get rid of it.” He saw someone in the toilet so he couldn’t throw it there. “It went off.” In a coma, he was transported to a hospital where he stayed for a month. “When I came out of the coma, I didn’t know I had lost my hands.”

The trial continues.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones