Skip to comments.Muslim Cleric in London Closely Linked to USS Cole Bombing
Posted on 05/28/2004 2:46:25 AM PDT by kattracks
(CNSNews.com) - Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Muslim cleric arrested in Britain Thursday and facing extradition to the United States, is closely linked to the Yemeni terrorist group that claimed responsibility for bombing the USS Cole.
Seventeen sailors were killed when the U.S. Navy destroyer was bombed during a refueling stop in Aden, a deep-water port on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, on Oct. 12, 2000.
Several days after the attack, al-Masri claimed responsibility on behalf of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, a group with whom he was closely associated.
In an interview with CNSNews.com in London, the Egyptian-born cleric said the group attacked the American ship in response to the uprising in the Palestinian Authority self-rule areas, which began just weeks earlier, as well as to mark the first anniversary of the execution of an Aden-Abyan Army leader, Abu al-Hassan al Mehdar.
Mehdar was shot by a Yemeni firing squad for his part in the kidnapping 16 Western tourists, including two Americans, in December 1998. Four of the hostages - three Britons and an Australian -- were killed in a rescue attempt.
That kidnapping incident forms part of the basis for the 11-count indictment brought against al-Masri by a New York grand jury last month, and announced Thursday by Attorney General John Ashcroft.
The day after Mehdar was executed, al-Masri vowed revenge, telling the Arabic Al-Hayat newspaper that the dead man's "blood will not go to waste. We ask Allah to help us avenge him an Islamic revenge."
Researchers say terrorists frequently plan attacks on days that hold particular significance for them or their "cause." The Bali bombing took place on the second anniversary of the Cole attack, and this year's train bombings in Madrid occurred exactly two-and-a-half years after 9/11.
During the interview, Al-Masri confirmed that he was at one point a spokesman for the Aden-Abyan Army.
He also confirmed that his son, Mohammed, and step son, Mohssen, were serving a seven-year prison term in Yemen for plotting bombing attacks on behalf of the Aden-Abyan Army.
The group, formed in 1997, is named after a district in Yemen.
Its stated aims included pressing for the imposition of Islamic (shari'a) law in Yemen and opposing the use of Yemeni ports and military facilities by U.S. and other Western armed forces.
Reports cited by the Israel-based Institute for Counter-Terrorism say that the group was founded with the help of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's brother and includes veterans of the Afghan war against the Soviet Union.
"The Islamic Army has loose ties to bin Laden and has made his cause its own," the reports said.
Other counts faced by al-Masri under the U.S. indictment include trying to help al-Qaeda set up a terrorist training camp near Bly, Oregon, in late 1999 and early 2000, providing material support to al-Qaeda, and supporting violence in Afghanistan.
Al-Masri was imam of a mosque in North London's Finsbury Park which drew the likes of 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, the man who tried to blow up a U.S.-bound flight from Europe with explosives hidden in his shoe.
After the U.S. launched air strikes against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan following the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in East Africa, the Aden-Abyan Army issued a statement saying it "declares its support and backing for Sheikh Osama bin Laden ... and appeals to all sectors of the Yemeni people, the descendents of the mujahideen conquerors, to kill the Americans and seize their possessions."
Four months later, the kidnapping took place.
In the Oct. 2002 interview with CNSNews.com , al-Masri denied ever having met bin Laden, but said he would "consider it an honor" to be associated with the Saudi-born terror chief.
Al-Masri was the second radical Islamic figure to link the Aden-Abyan Army to the attack on the USS Cole.
The day after the bombing, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of a UK-based Islamic organization, said he had received a claim of responsibility for the attack from the Aden-Abyan Army.
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