LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s most high-profile radical Muslim cleric, who applauded the Sept. 11 attacks and last week’s space shuttle crash, has been removed as head of the mosque where he preached. The UK Charity Commission said Tuesday Abu Hamza al-Masri “had used his position within the charity to make inappropriate political statements.”
His north London mosque was raided by police last month in a probe into the discovery of ricin poison. Egyptian-born Masri, whose missing eye and hook in the place of his right hand have helped make him a hate figure in British tabloids, said he would ignore the ruling.
“The reason for banning me is for making political comments against America and Israel,” he told Reuters.
Masri was already at the center of a row this week after tabloids reported he had “gloated” over Saturday’s crash of the space shuttle Columbia and the death of its crew.
“It was a trinity of evil against Muslims, because it (the shuttle) contained Americans, an Israeli and a Hindu,” he was widely reported as saying.
As well as the five U.S. crew members, Columbia was carrying Colonel Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space, and Indian-born Kalpana Chawla. The Commission said in a statement it had acted “to protect the reputation of the mosque.” Masri would still be free to pray at the building, currently closed following the police raids. Masri has recently been preaching and leading prayers on Fridays in the street outside the mosque in London’s Finsbury Park area.
The cleric, who lost an eye and both forearms while fighting the Russians in Afghanistan questioned the Commission’s authority to ban him. “The Charity Commission has actually collaborated with the police to close the mosque, and actually to hijack the whole mosque,” he told Reuters by telephone.
The Commission accused Masri of a similar charge.
“Trustees of the charity (that owns the mosque) had been prevented from governing the charity properly by the activities of Abu Hamza and his supporters,” it said.
Masri, an admirer of Osama bin Laden who the U.S. blames for the Sept. 11 attacks, has three months to lodge an appeal with the High Court in London. Some sections of the British media have recently made calls for Masri to be deported. He holds a UK passport, which he said has now been confiscated, through marriage to a British woman. Masri is suspected by the U.S. of links with bin Laden’s al Qaeda network and is wanted in Yemen on terrorism charges. His son has served prison time in Yemen on terrorism charges.