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Controversial cleric of UK mosque

Hamza is watched by police as he conducts Friday prayers in the street.
Hamza is watched by police as he conducts Friday prayers in the street.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Muslim cleric Abu Hamza, who preaches at the London mosque linked to some key terrorist suspects, is one of the most controversial Muslim figures in Britain.

Hamza, a 45-year-old Egyptian-born engineer, is missing a hand and an eye -- injuries he says he sustained while tackling a landmine in Afghanistan.

Police said the Finsbury Park mosque premises "have played a role in the recruitment of suspected terrorists and in supporting their activity both here and abroad."

But Hamza said the UK Charity Commission's threat to exclude him as an agent of the North London Central Mosque Trust for his "inflammatory and highly political" speeches at prayers was "prejudice."

The Commission said it would spend two weeks from late January deciding whether or not to remove him -- although Hamza said he intended to ignore any decision and continue preaching anyway.

He accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the police of "Rambo" tactics during a police raid on the Mosque on Monday, which he said was part of a government-backed "war" on Islam.

Among those known to have worshipped at the Finsbury Park mosque are alleged shoe bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker" of September 11.

Time magazine reported that the Finsbury Park mosque in north London is notorious for the radicalism of its message and the number of suspected terrorists who have worshipped there.

Time said Moussaoui was a regular at Finsbury Park, as were other al Qaeda suspects.

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

They were sentenced to between three and seven years for plotting to blow up targets in Aden including the British consulate, a church and a hotel.

Hamza's teenage son and stepson were among those convicted and prosecutors said he had sent the group to Yemen.

Hamza denied this and the five insisted they had been tortured into signing confessions.

They were also accused of working with Islamic radicals who kidnapped 16 Westerners in December 1998. Four of the Westerners died in a shoot-out during a botched rescue attempt by Yemeni security forces.

Police stand guard outside the mosque on Monday

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.

He said: "I won't condone what has happened and I won't condemn it because I don't know who has done it yet.

"If somebody has done this just for earthly gain and political advancement, then obviously it is a cheap cause.

"But if it was done because people are desperate and their lives have been threatened, then that is a respectable cause which no one could dare to condemn.

"Then those people who carried out the attacks would be martyrs. Martyrdom is the highest form of jihad (holy war).

"If you do things for the cause of God, losing your life for it is the highest form of pure belief. This is in the Koran. America thinks that it comes first, but Muslims believe that a believer comes first."

He added: "When you damage a people, and they have no home and no hope, and their babies and children are killed, then they retaliate.

"America took decisions to give arms to certain people and take arms away from others. What happened yesterday would be self-defence."

Just before Christmas, the BBC showed footage of him convincing his followers of the merits of attacking banks.

Asked whether he still maintained that it was legitimate to "loot and shoot" in banks, he said: "Banks are a different story. Banks are imposing on us poverty ... they are enslaving Africa and our countries."

He said his original comments related to banks in France, because of the country's activities in Algeria.

But asked whether it would also be legitimate in Britain, he said: "Maybe it is not legitimate for everybody, but the question was from somebody who was Algerian, whose family were being killed, and their property being taken.

"And if somebody is similar to him in England, then he has the right to do so. Islam doesn't say you turn the other cheek ... you defend yourself in the appropriate way."

Asked if there was a government on earth which he admired, he replied: "The Taliban."

When it was pointed out to him that the Taliban had been forced from power, he said he hoped for its return.

"The coming Taliban, hopefully," he said.

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