Intelligence experts say "Londonistan," as they call it, has been a center of Islamic fundamentalist activity in Europe since the 1980s. The North London Central Mosque, the site of a raid Monday by British police, is, according to European law officials, the beating heart of that activity. The mosque's leaders claim it is a harmless house of worship catering to the needs of faithful Muslims, but investigators say it has been a fertile recruiting ground for Islamic extremists, producing self-styled holy warriors such as Richard Reid, the Al Qaeda-supporting "shoe bomber."
American and European officials have no doubt that it also serves as a link between local extremists and Islamic warriors from Chechnya to the Middle East. The Egyptian-born imam of the mosque, Sheik Abu Hamza al Masri, has publicly hailed Osama bin Laden as a liberator of the Middle East and regularly calls for a jihad against the West. This is not mainstream Islam, or even nonviolent fundamentalism. The mosque's very existence has been a rebuke to Muslims trying to lead quiet, normal lives in Britain.
The police raid shows a new and necessary unwillingness to compromise with terrorism in Britain, after a series of shocks. These include the discovery of an Al Qaeda-related terrorist network linked to possible production of the deadly poison ricin. Seven people arrested in the raid Monday are suspected of having ties to that ring. Another of its suspected members stabbed a Manchester police detective to death during an earlier investigation of a makeshift laboratory.