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Monday, 3 February, 2003, 15:32 GMT
Muslim cleric's shuttle outburst attacked
Sheik Abu Hamza
Sheik Abu Hamza is not a mainstream figure
Politicians and British Muslim leaders have dismissed preacher Sheikh Abu Hamza's comments on the Columbia space shuttle, which he described as carrying a "trinity of evil".

Mr Hamza - recently barred from preaching at the Finsbury Park mosque in London - said the loss of the shuttle and all seven astronauts was a "sign from God".

The controversial cleric said the crew had been punished with death by Allah because there was an Israeli, Ilan Ramon, a Hindu Indian-born Kalpana Chawla, and Americans onboard.

It is a punishment from God

Sheikh Abu Hamza
But shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin said Mr Hamza's comments were "monstrous, appalling, despicable, and outrageous".

"All sensible people in Britain will be amazed that someone can engage in implicit incitement of this sort without anyone laying a finger on him."

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, dismissed Mr Hamza's pronouncement as "lunatic".

Dr Siddiqui told BBC News Online all British Muslims would be feeling sympathy for the dead astronauts, who had given their lives in the pursuit of sciences.

There was special significance in the shuttle disintegrating over an area of the US called Palestine, Mr Hamza said.

'Military purposes'

The preacher added: "The Muslim people see these pilots as criminals. By going into space they would have sharpened the accuracy of their bombs through satellites.

"These missions would increase the number of satellites for military purposes. It would increase the slavery of governance of other countries by America.

"It is a punishment from God. Muslims see it that way.

Tribute to the Columbia's crew
The shuttle disaster shocked the world
"It is a trinity of evil because it carried Americans, an Israeli and a Hindu, a trinity of evil against Islam.

"The fact that the motor of the craft fell on Palestine - all these are messages from God.

"It is a strong message, for the Israeli, to be taken up there to space and he spoke about the Holocaust, to try to make religious advancement from it and gain some moral high ground, hence you have seen this message over Palestine."

Dr Siddiqui said Mr Hamza's views were utterly unrepresentative of any section of mainstream British Muslim opinion.

"It is just another of his lunatic pronouncements.

"In every scientific endeavour one has to accept so many failures before you finally succeed.

"It has nothing to do with Islam and Muslims.

"We praise these brave astronauts for the sacrifices they have made."

But Anjem Choudray, UK leader of Al-Muhajiroun, which has been accused of recruiting Islamist militants in British universities, said Muslims "would not be shedding any tears" over the accident.

Army official

Mr Choudray, from Ilford, east London, said the many Muslims in the UK were saying the disaster was a sign from God.

"We believe if anyone innocent dies, then that is something we would not wish on anyone.

"However, this craft did also have one Israeli army official on board, who is famous for his military escapades in Israel.

"Especially at this time, Muslims would not be shedding any tears. Ultimately the US is a country at war with all Muslims and we know it is a sign from God."

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27 Jan 03 | England
24 Jan 03 | England
17 Jan 03 | UK
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