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British Anti-Terror Police Raid London Mosque - 2003-01-20


British anti-terrorist police have arrested seven people during raid on a controversial London mosque, where they also found tear gas, a stun gun, and a fake firearm.

Scotland Yard says the operation early today (Monday) was linked to the recent discovery in a London apartment of the deadly poison ricin. Police believe the mosque has played a role in the recruitment of suspected terrorists and in supporting their activities.

The Finsbury Park mosque is the headquarters of Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born cleric who, in the past, has praised al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

Mr. al-Masri was not among those arrested, but police did detain six North Africans and one east European during the operation.

Police also confiscated a number of computers and documents during the raid, which came amid a nationwide anti-terrorism sweep begun after the ricin discovery. London Police official Andy Trotter said authorities were justified in entering the mosque, but said they only searched residential and office areas, and not the prayer hall itself.

According to authorities, Mr. al-Masri's followers included suspected September 11th conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui, who is currently on trial in the United States. So-called "shoe-bomber" Richard Reid, who allegedly attempted to blow up a civilian airliner last year, had also attended the mosque.

The cleric, who is wanted in Yemen on terror charges, was ordered by Britain's Charity Commission to stop preaching because of what they said were inflammatory sermons. But the cleric insists he is a victim of discrimination.

Earlier this month, police found traces of ricin at a London apartment. Four men of North African origin have been charged in connection with the discovery. There is no known antidote to the deadly agent.

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