- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 8, 2003

From combined dispatches
LONDON Deposed from his mosque because of his anti-Western rhetoric, cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri took his radical brand of Islam to the streets yesterday and told worshippers President Bush is a curse to his people and the planet.
The Egyptian-born activist, who is wanted in Yemen on terrorism charges, also said the space shuttle disaster was an alarming sign from Allah that America will face fresh calamities.
It was no coincidence that the Columbia disintegrated over Texas, al-Masri told 100 worshippers who knelt in the street outside the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
"It is the headquarters of Mr. Bush. It is a message for him. You are a curse for your people, for the planet and mankind. The message is that some big calamities are going to drop on your head."
According to British tabloid reports, al-Masri "gloated" over the Columbia crash and the death of its crew of seven on Feb. 1.
"It was a trinity of evil against Muslims, because [the shuttle] contained Americans, an Israeli and a Hindu," he was quoted as saying. The shuttle carried Israel's first astronaut, Col. Ilan Ramon, and six Americans, including India-born Hindu Kalpana Chawla.
A mainstream Muslim leader quickly denounced the cleric's "publicity seeking antics" as "grossly offensive."
"He seems to have no understanding of the damage that his rhetoric does to community relations in this country and the harm it does to ordinary British Muslims," said Inayat Bungalwala of the Muslim Council of Britain.
Al-Masri has been ordered to stop preaching at the mosque by a government body because his "extreme and political" statements conflict with the mosque's charitable status.
The mosque's trustees have said the modern red-brick building, which was closed after an anti-terrorism raid last month, will remain shuttered until it can be cleansed of al-Masri's "spiritual filth."
But the cleric, who lost both hands and an eye fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan and has a hook in the place of his right hand, has vowed not to be silenced, especially on Fridays, the Muslim day of worship.
The Columbia disaster "shows the evil coalition between Israel and America is immoral and is going to be disintegrated," he told worshippers, who knelt on plastic sheeting facing toward Mecca.
The United States says al-Masri is a member of the Islamic Army of Aden, the organization that took responsibility for the deadly bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. The cleric is wanted in Yemen for purportedly orchestrating terrorist activities there, but as a British citizen is protected from extradition.
Al-Masri denies any involvement in violence and says he is only a spokesman for political causes. But terrorism experts fear his vociferous anti-American message could radicalize Britain's Muslim youth.
In the past few years, the mosque has become a center of radical Islam.

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