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article imageFinsbury Park Mosque: Former hub of radical Islam

By Alice RITCHIE (AFP)     Jun 19, 2017 in World

The Finsbury Park Mosque, which appeared Monday to have been the target of an anti-Muslim terror attack, has fought for years to throw off its reputation as a centre for radical Islamism.

The red-brick mosque is famous around the world as the place where hook-handed hate preacher Abu Hamza spouted his anti-American vitriol after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Worshippers included Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who plotted to blow up a transatlantic flight, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over 9/11 -- though Hamza always denied knowing them.

Floral tributes are left outside the Finsbury Park mosque  in north London  on June 19  2017
Floral tributes are left outside the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, on June 19, 2017
Tolga AKMEN, AFP

After a 2003 raid by police investigating a ricin plot, the Finsbury Park Mosque was shut down -- though Hamza had already been forced out by other members, and was reduced to addressing his followers in the street outside.

He was arrested the following year and the mosque reopened in 2005 under a new board of trustees, with a particular goal of encouraging community cohesion.

- Tea and biscuits -

Many local residents gathered outside the Mosque on Monday to show their support for those affected by the attack, in which a man drove a van into pedestrians after evening prayers, leaving one person dead and injuring ten others.

Egyptian-born Hamza -- whose hands were blown off by an explosives experiment in Pakistan -- controlled the mosque from 1997 to early 2003, and for years after many terror investigations in Britain were traced back to his influence.

The van that was used in the attack on Muslim worshippers in the Finsbury Park area of north London ...
The van that was used in the attack on Muslim worshippers in the Finsbury Park area of north London, on June 19, 2017
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS, AFP

When he was jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred, the judge said the father-of-nine used his authority to encourage worshippers that killing was a religious duty.

Hamza was later extradited to the United States and jailed for life there in 2015 for playing a key role in the 1998 kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed, and in trying to set up a US terror training camp in 1999.

The new trustees have fought hard to clear the mosque's name, and in 2015 opened its doors as part of a nationwide initiative to improve cross-community relations following terror attacks in Paris.

Egyptian preacher Abu Hamza controlled the Finsbury Park mosque from 1997 to early 2003
Egyptian preacher Abu Hamza controlled the Finsbury Park mosque from 1997 to early 2003
NICHOLAS ASFOURI, AFP

Annalou Oakland, an 67-year-old artist who lives nearby, was one of those who visited for tea and biscuits.

"There was big fear around this particular mosque in the past and it's really good to hear what they're doing and to meet people one on one," she told AFP at the time.

"Ten years ago it was different. Since then we've worked tirelessly to open our centre, our mosque, our activities to the public," Khalid Oumar, one of the mosque trustees, had said.

The mosque nonetheless received a string of threatening emails and letters in the wake of the Paris attacks.

Authorities had also warned of an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes across London after the London Bridge attack on June 3.

Abu Hamza jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred
Abu Hamza jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred
ODD ANDERSEN, AFP

"Our community is in shock, our thoughts and prayers are with those who have been affected by this," Mohammed Kozbar, the mosque's chairman, said Monday.

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