A London mosque recently hailed as a model of moderation after being led for years by a now-convicted terrorist finds itself in a new row, as one of its current leaders has been exposed as a senior Hamas terrorist.
The Finsbury Park Mosque was notorious before and after 9/11 as a former al-Qaeda guesthouse led by hook-handed Abu Hamza. He is currently serving time in U.S. federal prison on terror charges. According to UK and U.S. media, the Finsbury Park Mosque had since shed its extremist past and embraced “moderation,” even becoming a “beacon of anti-radicalization.” Those media pronouncements now appear premature:
— The Times (@thetimes) November 7, 2017
The Daily Mail reports:
A trustee at one of London’s best-known mosques is a senior member of “terrorist organisation” Hamas’s political wing, it was reported this morning.
Mohammed Sawalha holds the role of trustee at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, which was formerly linked to extremism but which insists it has since undergone an “complete overhaul”.
It emerged today that Mr Sawalha represented the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas at recent talks in Moscow.
Sawalha, who lives in London, was appointed a trustee of the mosque in 2010 and is legally responsible for overseeing the mosque’s management, The Times reported today.
He was one of five senior figures from the Islamist organisation who were sent to Moscow in September, where they met Russia’s deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov and other Kremlin officials.
Former U.S. Treasury official Matthew Levitt noted Sawalha’s presence in the Hamas delegation several weeks ago:
— Matthew Levitt (@Levitt_Matt) October 23, 2017
— Matthew Levitt (@Levitt_Matt) October 23, 2017
This is a dramatic blow to the UK political and media establishment, which has repeatedly defended the mosque against charges of harboring extremism. For example, Piers Morgan recently attacked critic Tommy Robinson by claiming the mosque had abandoned its extremist past:
You're peddling vile, dangerous hate against a mosque that rejected extremism a decade ago.
Stop it, you inflammatory fool. https://t.co/tzPBppMtuf
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) June 21, 2017
But just a few weeks after those comments, the Finsbury Park Mosque hosted South African imam Ebrahim Bham. He is known for his extremist views, including rabid anti-Semitism and the defense of violent jihad.
And yet, three years ago the mosque was given an award by a community organization for its supposed anti-extremism work.
After one mosque attendee died this past June when a van ran into a crowd of mosque worshipers, the UK and U.S. media rose to the Finsbury Park mosque’s defense, proclaiming its supposed transformation:
How Finsbury Park Mosque went from an 'al-Qaeda guesthouse' to an award-winning model of moderation https://t.co/095D1f1N7K
— The Independent (@Independent) June 19, 2017
— Telegraph Breaking News (@TelegraphNews) June 19, 2017
— Newsweek (@Newsweek) June 20, 2017
In 2015, NBC News declared that the Finsbury Park Mosque had entered “a new era after expelling extremists”:
Finsbury Park Mosque in north London was once the domain of hook-handed imam Abu Hamza, whose extremist sermons inspired attendees including 9/11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, failed American Airlines “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and London subway suicide bomber Mohammed Sidique Khan.
The “suicide factory” — as one book called it — was also visited by Djamel Beghal, the Islamist “sorcerer” and jail inmate accused of bringing together those responsible for the Charlie Hebdo massacre and related attacks in Paris last month.
In the wake of those Paris atrocities, the Muslim Council of Britain — the umbrella organization for Islamic institutions in the U.K. — called on member mosques to open their doors, hoping to “demonstrate solidarity during what has been a tense time for faith communities” and ease “tensions around terrorism.”
On “Visit My Mosque Day” at Finsbury Park earlier this month, children proudly lined up to perform for guests. A boy dressed in galabiyya [Islamic dress for men] and holding a British flag was joined by girls in headscarves. Together they sang songs, and recited poetry praising their faith.
The mosque also pushes this “transformation” narrative on its own website:
Unfortunately the Finsbury Park Mosque was under the forceful control of some extremists linked to Abu Hamza Al-Misri from 1997 to 2005. This was a dark period for the mosque as these individuals, unrepresented of mainstream Islam, used the premises to promote their ideology of hate, confrontation and disunity. They were ousted by the community in February 2005 in partnership with the authorities, but some sections of the media continue to falsely link the new management of the mosque to extremists.
Since 2005, and with the support of the local Muslim community, there has been a complete overhaul of the mosque’s leadership, comprising of a new board of trustees, management team, Imams, and a new ethos. Consequently, attendance has greatly increased and the range of services has steadily expanded. Today, the mosque’s prayer halls are packed with worshippers from various ethnic backgrounds. Around one thousand worshippers attend the prayer every Friday. For the Eid prayers, we offer four prayer services to cater for nearly 2000 people. There are also a multitude of activities catering for children, women, men and the wider community which range from religious services, education, physical and recreational activities, surgeries and advice, social and cultural activities; there is also active media activity in the mosque.
It seems clear that the media hype attempting to rehabilitate the mosque was more wishful thinking than reality. In fact, Hamas terrorist leader Mohammed Sawalha has been a trustee for the mosque since 2010 — just a few years after the beginning of its so-called “transformation.”
The mosque has yet to comment on today’s news, and the media outlets that declared the mosque “transformed” have so far been silent on the revelations.
And Piers Morgan has been uncharacteristically quiet.