Haroon Rashid Aswat is a radical Muslim of Indian descent but born and raised in Britain. Around 1995, when he was about 21 years old, he left Britain and attended militant training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is said to have later told investigators that he once served as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. In the late 1990s, he returns to Britain and becomes a “highly public aide” to radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. Reda Hassaine, an informant for the French and British intelligence services (see After March 1997 and Late January 1999), will later recall regularly seeing Aswat at the Finsbury Park mosque where Abu Hamza preaches. Hassaine frequently sees Aswat recruiting young men to join al-Qaeda. “Inside the mosque he would sit with the new recruits telling them about life after death and the obligation of every Muslim to do the jihad against the unbelievers. All the talk was about killing in order to go to paradise and get the 72 virgins.” Aswat also shows potential recruits videos of the militants fighting in Bosnia and Chechnya. Hassaine will add: “He was always wearing Afghan or combat clothes. In the evening he offered some tea to the people who would sit with him to listen to the heroic action of the mujaheddin before joining the cleric for the finishing touch of brainwashing. The British didn’t seem to understand how dangerous these people were.” Hassaine presumably tells his British handlers about Aswat, as he is regularly reporting about activities as the mosque around this time, but the British take no action. [Sunday Times (London), 7/31/2005] It will later be reported that Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings (see Late June-July 7, 2005). Some of the 7/7 suicide bombers regularly attended the Finsbury Park mosque, and may have been recruited by al-Qaeda there or at another mosque in Britain. Counterterrorism expert John Loftus will later claim that Aswat in fact was working with British intelligence. He will say that in the late 1990s British intelligence was trying to get Islamist militants to fight in Kosovo against the Serbians and Aswat was part of this recruitment effort (see July 29, 2005). [Fox News, 7/29/2005]
August 1994: Journalist Starts Working as Informant for Algerian Security Services, Obtains Militants’ Fax Numbers
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]A journalist named Reda Hassaine is hired by the Algerian security services to perform a mission directed against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Islamist militant group. He goes to London, where he meets a GIA member and receives a fax machine from him. The fax machine is broken, but was previously used to distribute GIA messages and its memory holds “scores of phone numbers identifying GIA men in Algeria who had sent communiqués” to Britain. Hassaine takes the fax machine back to Algeria and gives it to the security services there; what use they make of the numbers is unknown. Hassaine’s contact in London also gives him cash for the GIA, which Hassaine passes on to the security services. In return, Hassaine gives the contact a false passport that can be tracked. [Observer, 2/18/2001; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130]
Early 1995: Mole Helps Algerian Government Monitor GIA in London Algerian journalist Reda Hassaine, who has previously performed one mission for the Algerian security services directed against the militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) (see August 1994), persuades the Algerian government to hire him on a more permanent basis. Hassaine approaches the Algerians because gunmen have assassinated a close friend in Algiers and he holds the GIA responsible. He makes the approach in London, where he now lives, by contacting the Algerian embassy. His case is handled by a colonel in the Algerian intelligence service, with whom Hassaine meets in various London pubs for several years. Hassaine is tasked with attending the various extremist mosques, in particular a mosque in Finsbury Park, as well as coffee shops. His job is to keep his eyes and ears open and also to report on specific GIA operatives. Hassaine will later focus on the Finsbury Park Mosque and will say of the extremists who passed through it: “They came from all over the world, spent some time there and went somewhere else—Kashmir, Afghanistan, wherever. And many of them would come back again. The mosque was a rest place for them, they would return from jihad and start telling the younger ones about it, brainwashing another lot of recruits.” Hassaine will be hired by French intelligence in 1997 (see Early 1997), after which he appears to do less for the Algerians. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 130-134]
Entity Tags: Finsbury Park Mosque, Reda Hassaine, Groupe Islamique Armé
Category Tags: Reda Hassaine, Algerian Militant Collusion, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism
Early 1997: Algerian Informer Hired by French Intelligence in London Reda Hassaine, who had previously informed for an Algerian intelligence service in London (see Early 1995), begins working for the French service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE). The co-operation is initiated by Hassaine, who goes to the French embassy in London and says he has information about the 1995 Paris metro bombings (see July-October 1995). Hassaine’s French handler, known only as “Jerome,” wants to know the names of everybody at the mosque in Finsbury Park, a hotbed of extremism where Abu Hamza al-Masri is the imam. Hassaine is shown “hundreds and hundreds of photographs,” and the French appear to have photographed “everyone with a beard in London—even if you were an Irishman with a red beard they took your photograph.” Hassaine’s busiest day of the week is Friday, when he has to hear Abu Hamza pray at Finsbury Park mosque, as well as making a mental note of any announcements and collecting a copy of the Algerian militant newsletter Al Ansar. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 124, 133-134]
March 1997-April 2000: French and British Informer Helps Security Services Track Moussaoui and Shoe Bomber Reid
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an Algerian journalist who informs for a number of intelligence services, including an Algerian service, the French Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE), and the British Special Branch and MI5, helps intelligence agencies track Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe-bomber Richard Reid. One place Hassaine sees Moussaoui and Reid is the Four Feathers club, where leading Islamist cleric Abu Qatada preaches. [Evening Standard, 1/28/2005; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] Hassaine also sees Moussaoui, Reid, and Spanish al-Qaeda leader Barakat Yarkas at the Finsbury Park mosque in London. The mosque, a hotbed of Islamic extremism headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri, is the center of attention for many intelligence agencies. Hassaine does not realize how important these people will later become at this time, but recognizes their faces when they become famous after 9/11. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133] British intelligence also monitor phone calls between Moussaoui and Reid in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000).
After March 1997: Algerian Government Mole Told to Focus on Top London Imam Abu Hamza After Abu Hamza al-Masri takes over as the Friday preacher at Finsbury Park Mosque, a mole working for the Algerian government is told to find out everything he can about Abu Hamza. The mole, Reda Hassaine, has been working for the Algerians against the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) in London for some time (see Early 1995). The Algerians know that Abu Hamza met with Algerian fighters in Bosnia (see 1995), and is at the top of the GIA’s network of foreign supporters. Hassaine goes to the mosque every day and, as he and Abu Hamza have two mutual acquaintances, he is sometimes able to sit with him and listen to him speak. He does not get to know Abu Hamza well, but hears him constantly talking about jihad, killing, and life after death. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 132]
1998: French Intelligence Mole Launches Pro-Islamist Newsletter Reda Hassaine, a mole for the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) who has penetrated militant Islamist circles in London (see Early 1997), launches an extremist newsletter to boost his standing. The project is expressly approved by his DGSE handler, who gives Hassaine £1,500 (about US$ 2,250) to fund the launch. The primary aim of the project is to bring Hassaine closer to Abu Qatada, a key militant leader in London. In addition to this, the newsletter enhances Hassaine’s position at the Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of Islamist radicalism, and he now has “free run” of it, enabling him to gather more information. He sees false documents being ordered and traded, stolen goods offered for sale, widespread benefit frauds organized, and credit card cloning taking place “on a cottage-industry scale.” Much of the money generated goes to various mujaheddin groups. He is also able to get access to militant communiqués before they are published, and he passes them to his French handler. The first edition of the newsletter, called Journal du Francophone, is entitled Djihad contre les Etats-unis (Jihad against the United States) and is accompanied by a photo of Osama bin Laden. The content is anti-American, anti-Israeli, and it is “full of florid praise for the mujaheddin.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 134-135]
Spring 1998: French Intelligence Considers Kidnapping British Informer Abu Hamza in London The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) considers kidnapping Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical imam who is an informer for two British security services in London (see Early 1997). The plan, which is never implemented, is communicated to a French informer named Reda Hassaine by a handling agent known only as “Jerome.”
Concern about World Cup - Jerome tells Hassaine: “Something has to be done. [French interior minister Jean Pierre] Chevenement says he cannot sleep on Thursday nights wondering what threat is going to emerge from London Algerians the next morning or what Abu Hamza is going to say in his Friday sermon. Paris is very anxious that they will threaten France again.” The French are particularly worried that there will be an attack during the 1998 World Cup in France (see Late 1997-Early 1998).
Kidnap Plan - The plan is essentially to kidnap Abu Hamza in front of his home while he is only protected by his sons, bundle him into a van, and then race for a French ferry docked at one of the Channel ports. Hassaine’s role in the plan is not well-defined; he may be required as a lookout or to create a distraction.
Assistance from British Authorities - Jerome says that the British intelligence services MI5 and MI6 might be prepared to turn a blind eye to the operation, but that the regular British police will not help with it, “In short, if anything went wrong, all hell would break lose.” Authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory will comment: “The scandal could be bigger than the blowing up of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985 in New Zealand. But such was the level of French frustration—from the Minister of the Interior downwards—with the British that all options were being counternanced.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 123, 125, 126]
November 4, 1998: French Intelligence Fires Algerian Mole The French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure (DGSE) fires Reda Hassaine, a mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London (see Early 1997 and 1998). Hassaine is fired despite his detailed reports and great access to top militant leaders, because the French see him as a “maverick” who also works with the British press, and suspect he is still also working for the Algerian government (see Early 1995). In particular, a new Algerian intelligence officer has arrived in London and DGSE managers are suspicious of this officer for some reason. Hassaine’s French handler, “Jerome,” says his bosses are making a mistake by firing Hassaine because he thinks that radical Islam is becoming more dangerous, but complains that the decision is not his to make. Hassaine is given severance pay of £2,000 (about US$ 3,000), and in return signs a statement saying he will not talk about his work for the DGSE. Hassaine will later be hired as an informer for British intelligence. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 133-136]
(November 11, 1998): Algerian Informer Hired by Scotland Yard Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole who has penetrated radical Islamist circles in London, goes to Scotland Yard and tells the British police that he has vital information for the anti-terrorist branch. Hassaine had previously informed on Islamist extremists in London for Algerian and French services, but has just been fired by the French (see Early 1995 and November 4, 1998). He speaks to two officers with the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch about his work for the French, whom he had helped monitor leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri and Algerian terrorists living in London. Although most of Special Branch’s officers focus on Irish terrorism, they decide to hire Hassaine. The work is “frequently frustrating,” and only lasts for six months, after which control of Hassaine is passed to Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5 (see (May 1999)). After it is decided that Hassaine will leave the service of Special Branch and be transferred to MI5, Special Branch asks him to sign a letter saying that he is aware he will go to jail if he talks to anyone about his relationship with them, and if he is arrested by police, he will not be protected by immunity from prosecution. However, Hassaine is angry at this and refuses to sign. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 137-8]
Late January 1999: London Police Show Increased Interest in Finsbury Park Mosque Following a plot in which British citizens are kidnapped and murdered in Yemen, the Special Branch of London’s Metropolitan Police shows greater interest in Finsbury Park mosque. The mosque is associated with leading extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri, who supported the plot (see December 28-29, 1998). It is also attended by “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui, “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid (see March 1997-April 2000), and Djamal Beghal, a top radical Islamist. Reda Hassaine, a Special Branch informer who has penetrated the mosque, is quizzed on “every detail” of what he knows about it. He is also shown some photographs of people who attend the mosque, and asked about Abu Hamza and other radical groups in London. In addition, he draws a sketch of the building indicating the prayer room, Abu Hamza’s office, the kitchen, and the sleeping areas. Hassaine is also asked to provide regular reports, and, in March, to turn over all material he has collected, his notes, newsletters, and other documents. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 86, 140-141]
March 15-19, 1999: British Informer Abu Hamza Involved in Multiple Murders Is Arrested and Released Leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is arrested for his part in the kidnapping and murder of Western tourists in Yemen (see December 28-29, 1998). A demonstration outside the police station where Abu Hamza is held attracts sixty people. Abu Hamza tells the police he has just been repeating what is written in the Koran and is released. Evidence seized from his home includes 750 video and audio tapes of his sermons and an eleven-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad, which are later returned to him (see December 1999). Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security services (see March 1997-April 2000), is disappointed and notes cynically that “the British might consider the arrest operation successful, believing that it would ward off the danger of Abu Hamza or his followers carrying out any operations too close to home.” Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Hassaine’s assessment was not far off the mark.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 140-3]
(May 1999): Control of London-Based Algerian Informer Passed to British Intelligence Service Reda Hassaine, an Algerian informer working for the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch against Islamist extremists in London, is passed to MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service. One of his tasks is to identify men who attend Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of radicalism, in photographs MI5 gives him. For the first six-month trial period, Hassaine is given £300 (equivalent of $450) per month plus £80 for expenses, but MI5 tells him to claim unemployment and housing benefit as well, “because, after all, we were dealing with the security of the country,” and “it would be a good cover story because everyone in Finsbury Park was foreign and on benefits.” In return for his work, Hassaine is promised he will obtain indefinite leave to remain in Britain, but in February 2000 he will only receive leave to remain for four years, which he will be unhappy about. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 138-9, 147-148]
Between May 1999 and April 21, 2000: British Intelligence Officer Says ‘There Is Nothing We Can Do’ about Terrorism in Algeria According to Reda Hassaine, an Algerian mole working against Islamist extremists in London for MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence service, his handler tells him MI5 is powerless against Algerian extremists in London. Hassaine will say: “He [the handler] certainly never cared about what I cared most about, that hundreds of people were being killed in Algeria and that many of the killers and the organizers of the massacres had escaped to London. ‘Oh, what can we do?’ he would say. ‘We can’t stop them, there is nothing we can do.’” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 139]
Between May 1999 and April 21, 2000: British Intelligence Attempts to Recruit ‘Senior GIA Figure’ The British intelligence service MI5 attempts to recruit an unnamed senior figure in the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), an Algerian terrorist organization many of whose operatives are based in London. An Algerian informer called Reda Hassaine helps with the attempted recruitment, and is instructed to befriend the GIA leader, and to find him an apartment in London so he no longer has to sleep in Finsbury Park mosque, a hotbed of extremism. It is unclear whether the recruitment is successful, but Hassaine obtains new information and passes it on to MI5. In August 1999, he finds that three operatives of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), another Algerian terrorist organization allied with al-Qaeda, have arrived in London and informs the British authorities of this. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147]
November 1999: Veteran Jihadis Move to Birmingham; British Intelligence Not Interested
Reda Hassaine. [Source: CBC]Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British intelligence service MI5, learns that a group of Arab men who fought in the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s have arrived in Britain from Yemen. He obtains their names and passport numbers, and also finds they have settled in the Birmingham area. Recognizing the importance of the men, he asks to be allowed to get close to them, but MI5 tells him to stay in London. Thinking that MI5 will pay no attention, Hassaine becomes angry and shouts, “Are any of you interested in catching these terrorists?” He goes to Birmingham on his own initiative and obtains information on the group, which is passed to the Sunday Times [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 147] It is unclear why the jihadis move to Birmingham and who, if anybody, they meet there. A senior radical named Anas al-Liby, who is connected to the embassy bombing plot (see Shortly After August 12, 1998), lives in Manchester, about two hours’ drive from Birmingham, around this time (see May 2000). Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, will move to Birmingham in the summer of 2001 (see June 23-July 2001 and September 21-28, 2001).
Before April 21, 2000: British Intelligence Learns of Apparent Link between Top London-Based Militant and Bin Laden Reda Hassaine, an informer for the British security service MI5, learns that a top London-based operative known as Abu Walid is to travel to Afghanistan. He also hears rumors that Abu Walid is to meet Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders and will not return to London after the meeting. The mission is so important that Abu Qatada, a leading imam who reportedly sits on al-Qaeda’s fatwa committee (see June 1996-1997) and also informs for MI5 (see June 1996-February 1997), is to hold a special prayer session to bless Abu Walid before he leaves. Hassaine attends the prayer session, but the militants realize he is an informant and attempt to murder him (see April 21, 2000). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148] French intelligence had previously considered assassinating Abu Walid in London, but he will be reported to be in Afghanistan after the US invasion and will die in Chechnya in 2004 (see 1997-1998).
April 21, 2000: Militants Unmask British Intelligence Informer at Special Prayer Session, He Escapes At the instructions of the British intelligence service MI5, informer Reda Hassaine goes to a meeting at the Four Feathers community center. The meeting is being held so that Abu Qatada, an al-Qaeda spiritual leader and also MI5 informer (see June 1996-February 1997), can bless an emissary named Abu Walid that London-based Islamists are sending to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. MI5 knows about the meeting thanks to information passed on by Hassaine (see Before April 21, 2000). Hassaine arrives early, but finds Abu Qatada is already there, and the group is saying prayers for someone preparing to lay down their life for God, presumably Abu Walid. As the prayers end, Hassaine realizes some of the other men are looking at him strangely, and that they must have discovered he is a mole. The men attack him as he leaves, but he manages to get out of the building and they chase him down the street. He evades them and calls his MI5 handler, who tells him, “Go home and whatever you do don’t involve the police.” He then realizes that there were men at the meeting from numerous Islamist groupings throughout London, and that if he goes back to any place where extremists gather, he might not get away again. This ends his career as an informer. He occasionally runs into people who must know of the incident, and they make threatening gestures towards him. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 148-149]
After April 21, 2000: Informer Thinks British Authorities Do Not ‘Give a Sh*t’ Islamist Killers Live in London After deciding to end his career as an informant against radical Islamists in London (see April 21, 2000), Reda Hassaine reflects bitterly on his experience of the British security services, MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch: “These guys I was risking my life for—they hadn’t arrested anybody, they didn’t do a proper job. All the work I had done, all the risks I took didn’t seem to amount to anything. All this killing was taking place abroad, but the British didn’t give a sh*t that the killers were here in London. As long as nothing happened in Britain, then everything was alright. Abu Hamza [al-Masri, another MI5 informer (see Early 1997)] was left to do whatever he liked, to brainwash, to recruit, and send people off to the training camps. I was telling the British this all the time. ‘This group is going to Afghanistan,’ I would say. ‘They’re leaving on Friday, they have tickets to fly to Pakistan.’ And the only reply I got was, ‘There’s nothing we can do about it.’”
'Harmless Clown'? - Hassaine will add: “I wasn’t surprised. When I began to work with MI5 I already knew from the French that they would do nothing, that they weren’t interested in what was happening in London, the threat didn’t register. They told me that they thought Abu Hamza was a ‘harmless clown,’ but I felt obliged to carry on with the work. [Note: a group closely associate with Abu Hamza murdered some British citizens and others in Yemen in 1998 (see December 28-29, 1998).] I had started this thing, I wanted to pursue it. I later learned that Abu Hamza and Abu Qatada were both talking to MI5 and Special Branch too. The British must have thought they had these guys under control, that they were collaborating with them.”
'A Factory for Making Terrorists' - Hassaine will continue: “Nothing could have been farther from the truth. Abu Hamza was busily recruiting hundreds of people, sending them off to Afghanistan, from where they were returning unnoticed and undetected to do whatever they like. Abu Hamza had this great big mosque where these people could hide, pick up a new identity, get money and support, and receive the blessing of the imam for their actions. Seven days a week that place was producing recruits for the jihad. It was a factory for making terrorists.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 150-151]