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Shuttle row cleric ousted

Hamza said the Columbia astronauts who died were
Hamza said the Columbia astronauts who died were "punished" by Allah.

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• Profile: Abu Hamza 

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, who sparked a new storm by welcoming the deaths of the seven astronauts killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster, has been removed from his position by British officials.

Hamza, preacher at a London mosque linked to key terrorist suspects, was removed from his post by the UK Charity Commission.

Egyptian-born Hamza, 45, who is missing a hand and an eye, was accused of abusing his position at the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park to preach his radical brand of Islam and make inflammatory sermons.

The commission said it had acted "to enable the trustees of the North London mosque to govern the charity so it can do the important work for which it was originally established."

Police raided the mosque last month in a probe into the discovery of ricin poison in north London, and Hamza was forced to preach outside in the street.

Hamza was first suspended by the commission last April but had been given until January 20 to appeal. He said he would ignore the ruling.

"The reason for banning me is for making political comments against America and Israel," he told Reuters. A spokesman for Hamza said he "will continue to preach outside as usual."

Hamza, leader of the Supporters of Sharia group, first came to prominence in 1999 when five Britons of Pakistani origin were convicted in Yemen for plotting bomb attacks.

Among those arrested were his teenage son and stepson, and prosecutors said Hamza had sent the group to Yemen.

After the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, Hamza said the plane hijackers should be hailed as "martyrs" if it emerged they had carried out the attacks in the name of Islam.

The controversial cleric hit the headlines in Britain again on Tuesday for calling the Columbia astronauts "thugs of space" who deserved to die.

He said the crew -- Americans, a Hindu and an Israeli -- were a "trinity of evil" punished by Allah.

Hamza said that they were "criminals" bent on boosting military satellite technology so America could dominate the world.

He said it was a sign from God that debris rained down on a town in Texas named Palestine and called it "a divine act."

The commission said representations had been received from Hamza's lawyers and that it had responded to them in full.

Hamza would still be free to pray at the mosque, which is currently closed following the police raids, the commission said.

British newspapers have singled out the mosque as a focus for Muslim extremism.

Shoebomber Richard Reid and the alleged "20th hijacker" on September 11, Zacarias Moussaoui, both attended the mosque.


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