God caused shuttle disaster, Muslim cleric says

Comments immediately repudiated by another prominent U.K. Muslim
Toronto Star (Canada), Feb. 3, 2003

LONDON (AP) — A Muslim cleric known for his fiery anti-western rhetoric said today that the loss of the space shuttle Columbia was “God’s punishment” against Americans, Israelis and Hindus.

A mainstream Muslim leader condemned the “lunatic” comments by Abu Hamza al-Masri.

Al-Masri said the shuttle’s mission was “a trinity of evil against Islam” because it carried Americans, Indian-born astronaut Kalpana Chawla and Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space.

Columbia disintegrated over Texas as it was preparing to land Saturday, killing all seven astronauts aboard.

“It is a punishment from God,” said al-Masri, noting that part of the shuttle’s wreckage fell near the town of Palestine, Tex.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament of Great Britain, dismissed the comments as “just another of his lunatic pronouncements.

“Most Muslims will see this as a tragedy,” he said. “They (the astronauts) were very brave and courageous people.”

Al-Masri has been ordered to leave his pulpit at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque by Britain’s charity watchdog because of his “extreme and political” statements.

In the last few years the mosque has become a centre of radical Islam. Officials say previous worshippers have included convicted shoe-bomber Richard Reid and extremists who plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

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