Stereotypical hate figure was once a heavy-drinking bouncer at a Soho club

Wed, Apr 11, 2012, 01:00

WITH HIS one missing eye and a metal hook instead of a hand, the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza was a ready-made stereotypical hate figure for many in Britain unsettled by his firebrand speeches against liberal, western society and in favour of jihad.

Hamza, whose extradition from Britain to the United States to face terror charges – including 11 different counts of criminal conduct related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 – has been deemed legal by the European Court of Human Rights, once appeared to embrace western society. He worked as a bouncer in a Soho nightclub and had a reputation for socialising and heavy drinking when he first came to Britain from Egypt 28 years ago.

The 53-year-old was born in Alexandria, studied civil engineering and in 1984 he married a British woman, Valerie Fleming. It has been suggested that racial abuse of his son turned Abu Hamza into a critic of western life. In 1990 he divorced his wife and returned to Egypt where he reinvented himself as a Muslim “holy man” or sheikh.

He travelled to Pakistan and then on to Afghanistan. It is unclear if he fought there, but when he returned to the UK with his British passport in the early 1990s he was missing his right hand and an eye. He claims he lost the hand fighting jihad in Afghanistan.

In 1996 he re-emerged at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London preaching jihad to a young congregation. When three British tourists were killed in Yemen in January 1999, that government accused Abu Hamza of using his mosque to recruit Islamic warriors to the fundamentalist cause.

He was alleged to have been the leader of a cell called Supporters of Sharia [Islamic law] and was accused of sending his son, Mustafa Kamel, to Yemen, where he and five other British Muslims were convicted on terrorist charges. Following the September 11 attacks in the US, he said: “Many people will be happy, jumping up and down at this moment”. In February 2006, he was jailed in the UK for seven years for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. He is being held in the maximum-security Belmarsh prison in Woolwich, south-east London.– (Agencies)