LONDON, July 9 — On the morning after bombs ripped through the London Underground and crumpled a double-decker bus, four security guards escorted a one-eyed, Egyptian-born cleric, his arms amputated below the elbows from Afghan war injuries, onto the elevated dock of Courtroom No. 1 in Old Bailey, the capital’s principal criminal court.
Abu Hamza Masri, for years a blood-curdling preacher at a North London mosque allegedly visited by shoe bomber Richard Reid and hijacker trainee Zacarias Moussaoui, listened silently Friday as his lawyer argued about his indictment last January on nine counts of incitement to murder for speeches that allegedly promoted mass violence against non-Muslims. In one speech cited in a British documentary film, Masri urged followers to get an infidel “and crush his head in your arms, so you can wring his throat. Forget wasting a bullet, cut them in half!”
Masri’s case is just one of several dozen that describe the venom, sprawling shape and deep history of al Qaeda and related extremist groups in London. Osama bin Laden opened a political and media office here as far back as 1994; it closed four years later when his local lieutenant, Khalid Fawwaz, was arrested for aiding al Qaeda’s attack on two U.S. embassies in Africa.
As bin Laden’s ideology of making war on the West spread in the years before Sept. 11, 2001, London became “the Star Wars bar scene” for Islamic radicals, as former White House counterterrorism official Steven Simon called it, attracting a polyglot group of intellectuals, preachers, financiers, arms traders, technology specialists, forgers, travel organizers and foot soldiers.
Today, al Qaeda and its offshoots retain broader connections to London than to any other city in Europe, according to evidence from terrorist prosecutions. Evidence shows at least a supporting connection to London groups or individuals in many of the al Qaeda-related attacks of the past seven years. Among them are the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania; the assassination of Afghan militia leader Ahmed Shah Massoud on Sept. 9, 2001; outer rings of the Sept. 11 conspiracy, involving Moussaoui and the surveillance of financial targets in Washington and New York; Reid’s attempted shoe bomb attack in December 2001; and the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002…