They will not gag me, vows London mosque militant

The Times (England), Jan. 18, 2003
By Daniel McGrory

The militant Islamic cleric moves to ban him from a London mosque to prevent him expressing his extremist views.

Standing on the steps of the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London which has become his headquarters, he was in defiant mood. “I’ll keep going until they arrest me,” he said.

The Charity Commission has told the 45-year-old cleric that it will exclude him from preaching at the mosque because of his “inflammatory and highly political” speeches at prayer meetings. If he refuses to stop, the commission will try to obtain a court order against him.

Abu Hamza, who lost both hands and an eye in a bomb blast in Afghanistan, compared himself with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, saying that both had a duty to make “political statements”. He said that his opponents were just trying to gag him.

Surrounded by his bodyguards and a handful of supporters, he dismissed the commissioners as “nagging nobodies”.

“This is not the last time you will see me here,” he said. “I intend to carry on preaching. That is my right. The Charity Commission does not have a plug big enough to gag my mouth. They have to stop a lot of churches and synagogues before they stop this here.”

The cleric claims to draw a thousand worshippers to his sermons. Yesterday there were around twenty. With his usual flair for self-publicity, he claims he will wait until the last minute before meeting a deadline of Monday night to put his case to the commissioners.

In the past, Finsbury Park Mosque has been accused of links to al-Qaeda activists.

Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who tried to blow up an aircraft with explosives hidden in his boots, and Zacharias Moussaoui, named in the US as part of the September 11 plot, are both reported to have stayed at the mosque.

Asked about the mosque’s involvement with terrorism, Abu Hamza said: “I know nothing about that.”

The Charity Commission has been investigating the cleric’s activities at the mosque since last April. Though he ignored attempts to suspend him, the commission formally notified him last month of the decision to remove him from his post as head of the mosque.

It cited statements by him “which were of such an extreme and political nature as to conflict with the mosque’s charitable status; and his use of the premises for activities organised by a non-charitable political organisation”. The commissioners said his involvement with the mosque was damaging its reputation.

He described their allegations as nonsense. “They are trying to draw a line between religion and political statements but the Koran is full of holy statements. It tells you to get involved in the reality of your time,” he said.

“Many leaders of churches and synagogues make political statements all the time. The Archbishop of Canterbury has talked about Iraq.”

He claims he invited the commissioners to a meeting but they ignored him.

Simon Gillespie, the commission’s director of operations, said: “We do not take this kind of action lightly and Mr Hamza now has a further opportunity to make representations to us . . . he is permitted to go to the mosque to pray, but not preach.”

Muslim leaders and the commission want to avoid having to send police to arrest the cleric at the mosque. His critics say he would welcome such a confrontation.

His funds were frozen by the US Treasury last year for his alleged membership of the Islamic Army of Aden.

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