Marriage to Hamza ruined my life, says British ex-wife

The Telegraph (England), Feb. 2, 2003
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/

In an interview with Rajeev Syal, Valerie Fleming says that the extremist preacher who was her husband for four years and with whom she has a son has brought her ‘nothing but trouble’

The former wife of Sheikh reports that their union was a “marriage of convenience” or a bigamous one.

The Telegraph approached Mrs Fleming at her home, a purpose-built block of flats on the outskirts of Stevenage, Herts, where she lives with her daughter Donna, 22, son Dwayne, 24, and her fourth husband, whom she married in 1992.

Her ground-floor flat has a “Welcome” mat outside, but journalists who have attempted to gain entry have been turned away – and occasionally threatened.

Mrs Fleming opened the door wearing a baggy jumper, leggings and no shoes. She claimed to have been under immense stress, and it showed in the bags under her eyes and in her lank, bedraggled hair.

“If I met him now,” she said of Mr Hamza, “it would not be just his hands that I’d cut off.”

Our reporter was invited inside her flat for a 10-minute interview. There were no signs of the Islamic faith that she professes to follow – most Muslim households have the Arabic script for “Allah” on the walls. Instead, there was a neat cream carpet and walls decorated with pictures of flowers.

She has not spoken to Mr Hamza for more than 10 years, she said, but has suffered at the hands of the media and the local Muslim community because of their marriage.

Last week, it was alleged that Mrs Fleming was married to her first husband, Michael Macias, until 1982 and therefore her marriage to Mr Hamza should be declared void. If this was the case, the cleric, who has been openly sympathetic to Osama bin Laden and who has expressed pleasure at the September 11 attacks on America, could be stripped of his citizenship and deported.

Mrs Fleming denied the allegations that their marriage was bigamous. “My relationship to him [Mr Hamza] was totally true,” she said. “It wasn’t a marriage of convenience. Everything was checked out by the authorities at the time. We were quizzed by immigration officials.”

She has maintained her faith in Islam but has been hurt recently, claiming that Muslims in Stevenage have offered her little support since her marriage to Mr Hamza was revealed.

“The local Muslims have never really accepted me, and since they realised who I was married to, they have come down hardest on me,” she said.

Yesterday, she pleaded to be left in peace. “I married someone a long time ago. It is time to leave me alone,” she said.

Mr Hamza – whose real name is Mostafa Kamel Mostafa – met his future wife in 1979, when he was a hotel receptionist and she was a window dresser in central London. He had recently arrived in Britain from Alexandria and was studying to become a civil engineer, according to Mrs Fleming. He wore Western clothes and worked as a nightclub bouncer.

They had a son, Mohammed, who they both adored, she said. They agreed to separate in 1984 and it was decided that Mr Hamza would bring up their son in Egypt. Mohammed now claims to be a full-time Islamic activist in Birmingham.

Mr Hamza became increasingly close to a number of extremist organisations in Egypt and claimed to have lost his right hand and left eye in an explosion in Afghanistan.

Mrs Fleming said three years ago that the roots of Mr Hamza’s fanaticism could be traced to the racism that he faced in Britain during their life together. “He [Mr Hamza] was hugely disillusioned. He had come to the West to what he thought was a civilised society, and he could not understand how his family could be persecuted like this,” she said.

Mr Hamza, whose sermons were attended by Richard Reid, the British “shoe bomber” sentenced to 180 years last week for attempting to blow up a passenger jet, said that reports that his former wife was still married when they wed were part of a “smear campaign” by the American government.

Mr Hamza is wanted for questioning in Yemen by police investigating a terrorist plot. A grand jury in Seattle is also deciding whether to indict him over alleged plans to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

Additional reporting by Dominic McCann

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