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Radical Cleric Ousted in London

Sheik Abu Hamza al Masri is removed from post at mosque held to have recruited militants.

February 05, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — Britain's best-known radical Muslim cleric, who applauded the Sept. 11 attacks and last week's space shuttle disaster, was removed Tuesday from his post as leader of a London mosque alleged to be a recruitment center for Islamic militants.

Sheik Abu Hamza al Masri was dismissed by the quasi-governmental Charity Commission for "inappropriate political statements" and for interfering with the running of the Finsbury Park mosque, registered as a charity.

"The activities of Abu Hamza and his followers were not charitable," said Simon Gillespie, director of operations at the commission.

The commission, which suspended Abu Hamza in April, said it was making the decision permanent after rejecting an appeal from the cleric's lawyers.

Abu Hamza -- who last week led Friday prayers on the sidewalk outside the building -- said he would ignore the ruling.

"The reason for banning me is for making political comments against America and Israel," said Abu Hamza, who was born in Egypt and lost an eye and his hands in fighting in Afghanistan.

"I will go in and ask the worshipers when the mosque opens who they want to hear speak," he said. "The Charity Commission can hijack the mosque, the place of the message, but they can't hijack the messenger."

The mosque has been closed since 150 police officers stormed it last month as part of an anti-terrorism investigation after the discovery of the poison ricin in a London apartment.

Abu Hamza drew fire Monday when he told the British press that the loss of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia on Saturday was "a punishment from God."

The cleric has said that Osama bin Laden did not orchestrate the Sept. 11 attacks, but he said that "we ask God to destroy that nation [the United States], which harms Muslims anyway. If he does, then it's a blessing."

Western officials accuse Abu Hamza of drawing extremists to the mosque .

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