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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 23 January, 2002, 15:57 GMT
Mosque in the spotlight
Finsbury Park mosque
The mosque is just a few yards from Arsenal FC
Finsbury Park mosque has come under the spotlight several times for alleged links to Muslim terror suspects. BBC Home Affairs reporter Danny Shaw profiles the controversial place of worship in London.

The North London Central Mosque, based in Finsbury Park, is inextricably linked with its controversial cleric, or Imam, Sheikh Abu Hamza.

Sheikh Abu Hamza
Just one of the imams: Sheikh Abu Hamza
But although the sheikh has been questioned by the police, and although the centre has been under surveillance, there's no proof to link it, or Abu Hamza, with the recruitment of al-Qaeda terrorists.

The mosque, situated a corner-kick away from Highbury - the home of Arsenal Football Club - serves a diverse community of Pakistanis, Bengalis, Algerians and Egyptians.

It's one of London's largest mosques, with room for up to 2,000 men and 100 women. Some simply come to worship, others take part in classes in Muslim culture, Arabic and the Koran.

Controversial figure

There's nothing unusual in attending the mosque - it's open to casual visitors and most Muslims who've lived in the area for some time will probably have been there at some point.

Overall responsibility for the running of the mosque lies with a committee of leading community figures. But as one of the imams, Abu Hamza plays a leading role.

Feroz Abassi
Briton Feroz Abassi, currently held in Guantanamo Bay
The sheikh, an Egyptian by birth who's lived in the UK for 20 years, has a long history of support for radical Islamic causes and is outspoken in his belief in the implementation of Shariah law.

He is particularly distinctive because of his hook and his single eye, believed to be the results of his fighting with the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.

In 1999, Abu Hamza was questioned by Scotland Yard detectives on suspicion of terrorism offences. He was held for several days before being released without charge.

Further scrutiny

The Yemeni authorities had requested his arrest and extradition, claiming he was linked to plots to bomb targets there. Abu Hamza denied the accusations - and he's continued to preach at the mosque ever since.

After the 11 September attacks in the United States, the mosque came under further scrutiny as allegations surfaced that al-Qaeda supporters had attended meetings there.

They included Djamel Beghal, who's accused of plotting terrorist attacks in France, and Feroz Abbasi, one of the Britons detained by the Americans in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He's said to have joined the mosque after turning to Islam.

None of it reflects on the vast majority of those who attend prayers there - law-abiding, peaceful Muslims; but it means their place of worship will remain under the spotlight for some time to come.


Key stories

European probe

Background

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