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A LIFE OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY
by Amir Taheri
Gulf News
March 1, 2006


For almost two weeks last month, the British media had a field day with the trial of Abu Hamza Al Masri, an Egyptian-born self-styled Islamic "scholar" charged with a number of violent crimes.

The trial ended with Abu Hamza being sentenced to five years imprisonment, which means he could be out in two and a half years.

Dubbed "The Hook" by the media because, having lost his hands when caught in a minefield in Afghanistan two decades ago, he wears hook-like prosthetic, Abu Hamza is sure to feel sore at the way he has been treated in his adopted homeland. And he may well be right.

To start with if Abu Hamza, regarded by many as a buffoon, is such a deadly threat to Britain, indeed to civilisation as a whole, why is he getting away with such a light sentence?

It is hard to guess what might be passing through someone such as Abu Hamza's confused mind. But if he were to replay the film of his life in Britain in his mind he might come up with a few questions. He fled Egypt and arrived in Britain on a tourist visa at the age of 22.

The first question he might now want to ask is: how come they gave me a visa when they knew I had a criminal record in Egypt?

The visa had allowed him to stay in Britain for three months. Instead he started to work as a bouncer in a cabaret, without legal documents including a work permit. Again he might want to ask why was it that no one bothered to remind him that he was breaking the law.

Next, Abu Hamza was advised by his buddies that if he wanted to stay in Britain permanently he had to marry a British citizen. This he duly did by wooing a naturalised Briton of Iberian extraction. He had, of course, no interest in the woman. But, once again, no one told him that by arranging a fake marriage to obtain British documents he was breaking the law.

Soon afterwards he was granted his British passport. Once he had become a subject of Her Britannic Majesty, Abu Hamza, for reasons known only to himself, suddenly discovered a passion for the most radical version of Islam.

In those days, for anyone who wanted to build a career as a "Holy Warrior", Afghanistan was the place to be. What happened, however, was that Abu Hamza, like most so-called "Arab Afghans", never actually fought the Soviets. Instead he joined Haji Akbar's faction to fight other Muslim Afghan groups.

That is, however, not the issue.

The issue is that Abu Hamza might have wondered why the British authorities who must have known what he was up to never took an interest in what he was up to. After all here was a British citizen going to a foreign land to kill people and then return home to have his teeth cleaned by the National Health Service; no questions asked.

Having done his spot of jihad in Afghanistan, Abu Hamza decided to promote himself to the position of "Islamic scholar" and "Islamic cleric". Again no one ever asked him for his credentials.

Soon, things got even better. Abu Hamza targeted the mosque in Finsbury Park for what, in city parlance, might be called a hostile takeover. It is not hard to guess what Abu Hamza might have thought: here was a country where law enforcement was selective to say the least. To attract money from organisations that fund radical groups, Abu Hamza transformed the mosque into a hot-bed of agitation.

In sermons he preached murder and mayhem without anyone reminding him that he was breaking the laws on incitement to violence.

Using the technique of sabar which means, sounding out the adversary's resolve, Abu Hamza then diversified his business to add new lines such as recruiting and training "volunteers of martyrdom" for operations in a dozen countries. At one stage he even opened a branch in the United States where he set up a training camp for "volunteers for martyrdom". Again, no one told him that what he was doing was very un-British, to say the least.

How could one blame Abu Hamza for thinking that what he was doing was alright with the British authorities? On a number of occasions he had led his heavies in demonstrations in front of 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the British prime minister, and made blood-curdling speeches without being read the Riot Act.

Worse still Abu Hamza knew that terrorist organisations from half a dozen Arab countries had set up propaganda bases and safe havens in Britain without being bothered. Like any Londoner he would see fearsome militants around mosques calling for the murder of this or that Arab leader without being cautioned by the police.

The assassination of Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Afghan freedom-fighter, was planned on Edgeware Road in London. The abortive attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's life during a visit to Ethiopia was also plotted in London as was the bombing of the Paris Metro which claimed the lives of six people.

For 10 years, Britain protected the treasurer of the Islamic Armed Group (GIA), the most vicious of terrorist organisations in recent times, despite the fact that France, Belgium, Spain and Algeria wanted him extradited

Abu Hamza must have seen or at least heard about all that. Also, he must have known that a dozen countries, including France, were asking Britain to extradite terrorists who had committed atrocities in their territory, but to no avail.

He must have concluded that Britain was the headquarters of Islamist terror and that the term "Londonistan", coined by the French anti-terror judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, was not a mere token of Gallic pick.

Not surprisingly, Abu Hamza took his activities a notch further when he organised an attack on the British embassy compound in Sana'a, the Yemeni capital. The commandos he had sent did not manage to kill any British diplomat but did cause quite a stir. And, yet, he continued with his life in London unmolested, with the British police claiming that there was not enough evidence to bring him to court.

It was not until five years later that the incident was brought up in Abu Hamza's rushed trial in London.

As the trial showed Abu Hamza believed that he had reached a tacit understanding with the British authorities under which he was free to plot every crime under the sun against other countries without being discomforted as long as "there is no blood on our streets".

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair says that things changed with last July's terror attacks in the heart of London.

But, have they?

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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