Bin Ladin Is a 'Hero'
Posted Sept. 12, 2002
By Kenneth R. Timmerman in London

Hundreds of Muslims gathered at a radical mosque in north London on Wednesday evening to gloat over the U.S. commemoration of Sept. 11, while threatening that their followers would launch more attacks against America and American interests overseas.

At a conference advertized with posters showing the World Trade Center under attack by a hijacked airlliner, Muslim leaders from Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan alleged the United States had "declared war on Islam," and praised terrorist leader Osama Bin Ladin. All the while claiming they had not come to "celebrate" the attacks, they called Sept. 11 "a towering day in history" and ushered reporters into a basement conference room they jokingly referred to as "Ground Zero."

Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, who was banned from preaching earlier this year by British authorities for inciting violence, remained defiant. Addressing Americans, he said: "The message of bin Ladin has reached you. You do not feel safe. You cannot be protected by rockets." He claimed that al-Qaeda had grown strong after the U.S. retaliation in Afghanistan and called Sept. 11 "a turning point" in relations between America and Muslims that would lead to years of war and bloodshed.

Born as Mustapha Kemal, al-Masri traveled in the early 1990s to Afghanistan, where he lost an eye reportedly while manipulating explosives in an al-Qaeda training camp. The FBI now suspects him of helping to organize an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon. He called the allegation "yesterday's mashed potatoes," and scoffed: "What do you want them to do there, riding horses and shooting trees like John Wayne?" With just £5,000 (around $8,000) he boasted that he could "set up a camp in Afghanistan," but even five times that amount "wouldn't make you anything in America."

The Finsbury Park mosque is well-known as a hotbed of radical Islamic leaders in Britain. It was here ó in a three-story modern building that could pass for a small office or a school except for the concrete minaret sprouting from the roof ó that the "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussowi came to listen to Abu Hamza, the best-known acolyte in Britain of bin Ladin.

Camp followers who crowded the steps of the mosque covered their faces from police and press photographers with Palestinian headdresses (the wrong color ó green), and tried to look like fierce revolutionaries. One young man wore sunglasses well into the evening, letting just enough of his headdress fall away to reveal a week's growth of beard and a thick black moustache. An older couple left the mosque, pulling their jackets up over their heads to hide their faces.

Besides the raw hatred of America manifested by Hamza on Wednesday, mosque-goers learned more insidious hatreds. Out on the pavement a 23-year-old Iraqi named Mourad said with a straight face that "Jews are instructed by the Talmud to kill Gentiles and to steal their property. That's what it says in the Holy Koran."

A prayer leader who identified himself only as Abdul Aziz harangued an audience on the sidewalk under the watchful eyes of more than 100 London police. "America is the first terrorist state," he shouted. "George Washington was your first terrorist!"

Like the prayer leaders inside, Abdul Aziz called U.S. military action in Afghanistan part of a "war on Muslims." He called detention facilities in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba a "concentration camp," and added: "Now when we capture American soldiers we know how to treat them."

"With three square meals a day and a break for prayer?" a reporter asked.

He shook his head and passed a finger across his throat.

Other British Muslim leaders have denounced the radicals at Finsbury Park. Dr. Mohammad Nassem, chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque and one of the most respected Muslim leaders in Britain, told the Times of London that the Muslim community "does not like extremists. We must stand up and be counted." Although British authorities banned Hamza from preaching, they have adopted a cautious tolerance toward his rabble-rousing in an effort not to make of him a martyr.

Wary of the police presence, the speakers repeatedly were interrupted by a host of minders who attempted ó unsuccessfully ó to silence them when they broached sensitive subjects.

When asked if he agreed with bin Laden's attacks on America, Saudi dissident Mohammad al-Ma'assari, answered: "Yes, it's very clear." He called U.S. attacks against Iraq and America's support for Israel "acts of war," adding, "If someone is fighting acts of war they are not respecting civilian lives. Our Muslims decided he [bin Laden] can do something about that and take retaliatory action according to the principle of retribution, an eye for an eye, and he decided to do that. I think he didn't even take eye for eye. He only took one eye for a hundred. So there are still 99 to go."

"So you agree with what he has done?"

"Yes, it is legitimate," al-Ma'assari said. "It is not the wisest thing, but legitimate, yes. He took retaliation ..."

The minders intervened, trying repeatedly to cut him off, but al-Ma'assari wouldn't be silenced. When asked whether he thought bin Ladin was a hero, he told reporters: "Yes, he's a fighter, and he fought according to his belief. And anyone fighting a legitimate battle is a hero, yes."

Hamza uttered a warning that takes on an ominous ring when set against the recent arrests of suspected al-Qaeda "free-lancers" in Sweden and Germany. Until now, he said, America has "only" been attacked every four or five years, "because you are not on our agenda." But if the U.S. attacks Iraq, he said, America will "see suicide bombs everywhere, as you see in Israel. So keep away and preserve your people."

Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.


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