Profile: Abu Hamza

[Updated May 27, 2004]

Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri is one of the most distinctive radical Islamic figures in Britain.

Condemned by many Muslims as too extreme, the former Soho nightclub bouncer denies any involvement in terrorism.

But the 47-year-old has also defiantly justified the attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001.

Now he has been arrested in London on an extradition warrant issued by the US government.

He was born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa in Alexandria, Egypt, to middle-class parents. In 1979, he came to London with plans to become a civil engineer.


He studied in Brighton and later worked as a doorman in the West End.

He married a western woman, Valerie Fleming, in 1981 and received his British citizenship, although the Home Office is currently trying to have that removed.

Ms Fleming is reported as saying her ex-husband became more radical after their marriage and the couple divorced five years later.

In the early 1990s, he travelled to Afghanistan where rebels were fighting Soviet occupation.

It was there he sustained the injuries to his hand and eye – apparently clearing landmines for the Mujaheddin – that make him such a distinct figure.

He has also claimed to have worked in the Muslim community in Bosnia.

Son jailed

In 1999, Abu Hamza was questioned by Scotland Yard detectives on suspicion of terrorism offences in Yemen.

Islam / Islamism

Islamism is a totalitarian ideology adhered to by Muslim extremists (e.g. the Taliban, Wahhabis, Hamas and Osama bin Laden). It is considered to be a distortion of Islam. Many Islamists engage in terrorism in pursuit of their goals.

Adherents of Islam are called “Muslims.” The term “Arab” describes an ethnic or cultural identity. Not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The terms are not interchangeable.

He was held for several days before being released without charge. He has always maintained his innocence.

The Yemeni authorities had requested his arrest and extradition, claiming he was linked to plots to bomb targets there.

In the same year, his son Mohammed Mustafa Kamel was sentenced to three years in prison in Yemen for his involvement in a terrorist bombing campaign when aged 17.

He returned to Britain in 2002 after completing his sentence.

Abu Hamza runs Supporters of Sharia, which is a group dedicated to the rule of Islamic law.

In 2002 he addressed a rally in central London called by the radical Islamic group al-Muhajiroun, where members spoke of their support for al-Qaeda.

But he strongly denies American suggestions he recruits al-Qaeda terrorists.

His most infamous comments include praise for Osama Bin Laden and warnings to the UK Government about the consequences of attacking Iraq.

These have provoked as much condemnation from within Islam as from outside. Many Muslims say he only represents a few hundred people.

In February 2003, he was banned from preaching at the mosque by the Charity Commission but he continued to speak from the street outside.

Home Secretary David Blunkett believes the radical cleric is linked to international terrorism but attempts to strip his British citizenship and deport him to Yemen have been delayed.

An appeal against the decision to deport him was due in January 2005.

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Updated: May 27, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday January 20, 2003.
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