Sun, Jan 22, 2006 - Page 7 News List

British security sought my support: Muslim cleric

DENIALS Refuting charges of inciting terrorism and racial hatred, Abu Hamza al-Masri, said the British even tried to enlist his support in monitoring Islamic militants

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LONDON

Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric facing terrorism and race-hate charges, said on Friday that British security services sought to enlist his support in monitoring Islamic militants and averting terror attacks several years before his arrest in 2004.

Masri, who is 47 and a British citizen by marriage, is facing 15 counts, including incitement of racial hatred, soliciting other people to murder Jews and other non-Muslims and being in possession of material that could help a potential terrorist. He has denied all the charges.

On the second day of his defense testimony, Masri, who is also wanted in the US, was asked about a 10-volume work, the Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, that was removed from his home by the police. The encyclopedia was said to have suggested potential terrorist targets, including skyscrapers, Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.

"The first time I was aware of it was in this court," he said, suggesting that the only people who were likely to have read it were the police officers who took it from his home.

Masri also spoke of meetings with officers from Britain's internal security services who told him they were asking Islamic clerics to "control hotheaded people and make sure everything is under control and there is no risk to anyone," according to excerpts from his testimony published by the Press Association news agency.

At another point, Masri said he asked officers from the security services in 1997, "My sermon, is it a problem?"

He quoted one unidentified officer as replying: "You have freedom of speech. You don't have anything to worry as long as we don't see blood on the streets."

But by 2000, he said, security services officers told him: "`We think you are walking on a tightrope.' They said there were some things that they don't like."

His defense lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald, asked him for his views on suicide bombing.

"The term is being used and abused to scare people," Masri said.

"Bombing is a tactic of war if it is used for a good reason. If it is the only means to stop the enemies of Islam and you do not have any other means of resisting -- no women, no children, no harmless people are targeted -- then it is a tool of war, a tactic of war," he said.

"If it is targeting people or places where it is forbidden to target them, then it is immoral," he said.

"It is not a strategy, it is not an aim, it is a tool of war if there are no other means," he said.

Masri also denied that he had sought to persuade his listeners at sermons and speeches to hate Jews in Britain.

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