Consortium Against Terrorist Finance Mar. 11, 2016, 9:08am

The infamous Finsbury Park Mosque in the U.K. made news again this month by asking, for the second time in two years, to be removed from the World Check terrorism risk database after HSBC cut business ties with the mosque in 2014. The World Check database, published by Thomson Reuters, is used by organizations worldwide to help identify financial risks. This time, however, their request is compounded with legal action against Thompson Reuters for defamation. Finsbury Park Mosque first made headlines in 2003 when its Imam, Abu Hamza, was arrested after a police raid of the mosque uncovered weapons, gas masks, and chemical suits. Abu Hamza was later extradited to the U.S., where he currently serves out his life sentence in a maximum security prison for the 1998 kidnappings of Western tourists in Yemen, providing a satellite phone to the kidnappers, and establishing a militant training camp in Oregon so as to supply Al Qaeda and the Taliban with fighters. The Mosque was allegedly cleaned up in 2004 when a new Imam, Mohammad Kozbar, replaced Hamza, and effectively opened up the Mosque to the community inviting neighbors to ask questions and serving them tea and biscuits. Indeed, to an outsider, it might seem unfair of HSBC to hold the mosque accountable for terror activity that occurred almost ten years earlier. Responding to an inquiry about why HSBC denies service, a spokesperson said, “For a business customer these factors may include the type of activities the business is involved in, the jurisdiction in which it operates, and the banking products and services it uses.” The problem for HSBC, then, might be in the fact that, try as they may, the Finsbury Park Mosque just has not been able to stay out of the news. While the former Imam Abu Hamza left the mosque over a decade ago, his legacy seems to reverberate even to this day.

In 2005, the Wall Street Journal published an article claiming that two of Abu Hamza’s followers were involved in terrorist attacks: Zacarias Moussaoui, a Moroccan man who lived in London before moving to the U.S. to learn how to fly airplanes and was later found guilty to conspiring in the 9/11 terror attacks, and British national Richard Reid, who tried to blow up the December 2001 flight from Paris to Miami using a shoe bomb. Then, between the years of 2006 and 2009, life was relatively quiet for the mosque at Finsbury Park. They were able to focus on their normal activities of daily prayer, a youth club, Islamic education, and fatwa services. However, all of that changed in July of 2010 with the publication of a book entitled, The Suicide Factory: Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park Mosque. In the book’s introduction, authors Sean O’Neil and Daniel McGrory point out that while Abu Hamza may be gone, his followers continue to wreak terror upon London. They begin by noting that the July 2005 London public-transit bombings, which killed 52 people and injured hundreds more, just so happened to take place at the same time that Abu Hamza was set to arrive at the Old Bailey to stand trial for inciting terror and race-hate. The authors also stress that the terrorists involved in the London attack - Jermaine Lindsay, Mohammed Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer - were all students of Abu Hamza and frequented the mosque at Finsbury Park. After the release of the book, the Finsbury Park Mosque became the subject of an endless array of scandalous news headlines including everything from murder to arson.

In April of 2014, an article posted by Stand for Peace argued that the Finsbury Mosque promotes Muslim Brotherhood (MB) preachers like Jamal Badawi, a MB activist who opposes democracy, refers to Hamas suicide bombers as “freedom fighters” and believes that men should have the right to beat their wives. When in July of 2014, HSBC announced that it would be closing the account of the Mosque at Finsbury Park another important event occurred simultaneously: the British government was conducting an inquiry into whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood had links to terrorist organizations. It is not coincidental that the accounts closed by HSBC in that year - the Mosque at Finsbury Park, the Cordoba Foundation, and the Umma Welfare Trust - all have alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, or both. In the same month that HSBC announced its decision to suspend services to the mosque, another article came out linking the Finsbury Park Mosque to both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, arguing that one of the Mosque’s trustees, Mohammad Sawalha, was a fugitive Hamas commander. It probably did not help matters that, in August of that same year, a journalist with Al Arabiya wrote an article detailing his kidnapping by the Finsbury Park Mosque’s current Imam. The journalist revealed that his interview began well but quickly turned sour after he inquired about the mosque’s ties to the MB. It was at that time that the Imam, Mohammad Kozbar, locked the journalist in a room for a half hour and refused to let him leave until the police arrived.

The Finsbury Park Mosque, London
The Finsbury Park Mosque, London | Wikimedia

In January of 2015, two events happened simultaneously that threw the mosque on the world stage once again: an article was published linking the 2015 terrorist attacks on Charlie Hebdo to the Finsbury Park Mosque, claiming that the attack was part of “the legacy of … Abu Hamza,” and at the same time Abu Hamza was found guilty of terrorist related charges and sentenced to life in a U.S. Prison. Then, in November of that year, the Finsbury Park Mosque suffered a retaliatory, failed arson attack. The most recent news event, throwing fire onto the already smoldering mosque, was the January 2016 release of an article by the Center for Security Policy claiming that the “new Jihadi John,” a nickname given to the man with a British accent featured in ISIS produced videos, known as Siddhartha Darh or Abu Rumaysah, attended the Finsbury Park Mosque and was a student of Abu Hamza.

The defamation lawsuit filed by the Mosque at Finsbury Park and its Imam, Mohammad Kozbar, is further complicated by increased investigations in Britain into the inner workings of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, and recent findings that the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) - of which Imam Kozbar is Vice President - is part of the Muslim Brotherhood network. The complexity of the lawsuit is further exasperated by David Cameron’s recent statement, “Parts of the Muslim Brotherhood have a highly ambiguous relationship to violent extremism.” So while Kozbar is angry over the fact that Thompson Reuters and HSBC have damaged their reputation, and that the only bank with which they can currently do business is Qatari controlled Al Rayan bank, one cannot help but understand why HSBC might find working with the Finsbury Park Mosque to be risky business.

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