The Telegraph (England), Jan. 31, 2003
By Sean O’Neill
With his hook, his false eye and his outrageous statements about world domination, Finsbury Park appears to inhabit the kind of fantasy world that Cubby Broccoli would have been proud to create.
Is Abu Hamza a former nightclub bouncer who found Allah and became an Islamic warrior? Or is he a hotel receptionist turned street-corner rabble rouser?
The latest twist in the Hamza story is the revelation that his marriage to an Englishwoman in 1980 was not legal. When the then Mostafa Kamel Mostafa married Valerie Traversa in May 1980, she was still married to Michael Macias, the builder’s labourer she wed in 1971.
Mrs Mostafa, as she became, did not divorce Mr Macias until December 1981. Despite converting to Islam her marriage to Hamza ended in divorce in August 1984.
In a 1999 interview she said the marriage gave way under the pressure of “prejudice and hatred” from the outside world.
She said: “He had come to the West to what he thought was a civilised and sophisticated society. He could not understand how his family could come to be persecuted like this.”
After the divorce Hamza returned temporarily to Cairo, where his father was an Army officer. There he encountered Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind cleric now in jail in America on terrorist charges.
In interviews, Hamza has claimed he subsequently completed a degree in engineering in Brighton. But neither the University of Brighton nor the University of Sussex have any record of him.
He also says he was inspired by meeting Abdullah Azzam, the father figure of the jihadi movement, at the hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia in 1987. Between 1989 and 1993 he says he spent much of his time in Afghanistan.
It was there, he claims, that a mine he was trying to defuse exploded as he held it, blowing off his hands and destroying one eye.
Hamza returned to Britain and set up his Supporters of Shariah movement. For much of the mid-1990s he travelled back and forth to Bosnia, where many Arabs joined the Muslim side in the Balkan wars.
Later he encouraged jihad in Yemen, where his son and stepson were among eight young Britons arrested for terrorism in 1998.
His installation as imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in 1996 was acrimonious. Abdul Kadir Barkatulla, one of the trustees of the mosque, claimed that Hamza and his followers “used intimidation, verbal abuse and even physical use of force” to seize control. Hamza says he was “invited” to preach at the mosque.
Mudassar Arani, Hamza’s solicitor, said it was “an unfortunate state of affairs” that personal details were being raked up to discredit her client.
“No evidence has been produced that Abu Hamza was aware of having entered into a bigamous marriage,” said Miss Arani.