Profile: Abu Hamza

Abu Hamza outside Finbury Park mosque Abu Hamza continued to deliver sermons to followers outside Finsbury Park mosque after it was raided in 2003

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ABU HAMZA FACTFILE

  • 15 April 1958 - born Alexandria, Egypt
  • 1979 - travelled to England
  • 1987 - meets founder of Afghan Mujahideen
  • 1997 - arrives at Finsbury Park Mosque
  • 2002 - gives speech praising 09/11 hijackers
  • 2004 - arrested on terrorism charges
  • 2006 - convicted and jailed for seven years
  • 2012 - extradited to the United States after a long legal battle
  • 2014 - due to go on trial in New York

Born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa in Alexandria, Egypt, on 15 April 1958, Abu Hamza was the son of a naval officer and a primary school headmistress. He initially studied civil engineering before leaving for England in 1979.

In London, one of his first jobs was as a nightclub bouncer. He married a British woman and decided to resume his studies at Brighton Polytechnic.

His marriage broke down, but he later remarried and had seven children.

One of Abu Hamza's first major engineering contracts took him to Sandhurst. Technical drawings of the college were still in his home when he was arrested in 2004.

Meeting the Mujahideen

In the early 1980s the young Mustafa started to show an interest in Islam and politics. He was heavily influenced by the Iranian revolution, as were Osama Bin Laden and others.

Some Muslim thinkers were calling for Islamic states in Islamic lands. They had a military face in the Mujahideen fighters who, backed by the US, emerged to oppose the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan.

In 1987, after meeting Abdullah Azzam, an influential supporter of the notion of Muslims being obliged to fight jihad, Abu Hamza moved to Afghanistan.

It was while he was in the country he lost his arm and an eye. He reportedly accidentally blew himself up during explosives training though he denies this.

He returned to the UK in 1993 for treatment. But within two years he had left Britain again to support Bosnian Muslims during the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

Abu Hamza quickly became a leading figure in the British Islamist scene. He was spending more and more of his time preaching while churning out leaflets calling for jihad against corrupt Middle East regimes.

In 1997, he arrived at Finsbury Park Mosque.

Security services

There are suggestions that the police and intelligence services were already watching Abu Hamza along with other militants at this time. According to Abu Hamza himself, MI5 first contacted him in 1997 shortly after extremists massacred 68 tourists at Luxor, Egypt.

But it was in 1999 that he came to national prominence.

Scotland Yard questioned the cleric on suspicion of alleged bomb plots in Yemen. While Abu Hamza was released, his son, Mohammed Mustafa Kamel, was jailed in Yemen for three years for involvement in an alleged campaign of violence.

Abu Hamza at the 'Rally for Islam' in London's Trafalgar Square in 2002 Abu Hamza at the "Rally for Islam" in London's Trafalgar Square in 2002

Despite this brush with the law, Abu Hamza was consolidating his hold at the mosque. It had become a hostile environment for anyone who was not a supporter, with his closest confidantes barring access to anyone they did not trust.

He was delivering almost all the sermons. On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he co-organised a conference at the mosque praising the hijackers.

Five years later the trial of the men later convicted of the failed 21/7 London bombings heard that several of them had gone along to hear Abu Hamza preach. Other convicted terrorists have been linked to Finsbury Park.

Time runs out

On 20 January 2003 police raided the building as part of a major investigation into an alleged plot to produce ricin poison. They sealed the mosque and handed it back to the trustees.

Abu Hamza himself was not arrested in connection with that probe. But despite being denied a base, he preached outside its gates every Friday.

This bizarre stand-off between Abu Hamza and the authorities continued into 2004. Then, Washington named Abu Hamza as a "terrorist facilitator with a global reach" and he was arrested pending extradition.

Five months later, he was charged with 15 UK offences associated with his sermons and terror handbooks found at his home. He was convicted on 11 counts and was jailed for seven years.

'Radical star'

The American authorities continued to pursue his extradition. Following an eight-year legal battle, he was finally extradited in 2012.

A courtroom sketch of Abu Hamza appearing in a New York court in March 2014 A courtroom sketch of Abu Hamza appearing at a pre-trial hearing in New York in March 2014

He will now stand trial in New York, accused of offences including plotting to to set up a terror camp in rural Oregon, intending to provide support for terrorists in Afghanistan and in connection with the 1998 Yemen attack.

But he will not go to a supermax prison - like many other terrorists - if convicted. That was a concession to satisfy the European Court of Human Rights when it was considering his extradition appeal.

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