The Shoe Bomber's World


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Finsbury Park is at the heart of the extremist Islamic culture that French authorities call "Londonistan." So are the prayer meetings held by Abu Qatada, a fiery Palestinian cleric originally from Jordan. Britain's Muslims aren't necessarily more radicalized than those in communities elsewhere in Europe, but extremists among them may have greater liberty to operate. The British have no system of national identity cards. And the police have traditionally adopted a policy of "watchful tolerance" of extremists, aimed at keeping them aboveground. From afar, that policy can look lax. Watchful tolerance makes sense only if someone is actually watching. Abu Qatada, who has been named in American court testimony as a member of al-Qaeda's fatwa committee, disappeared from his home in west London around Christmas, just before he could have been detained under new antiterrorist legislation.

The mosque in Finsbury Park epitomizes the British attitude. It is the sort of place where you can buy stomach-turning videos (lots of throat slitting) made by Islamic extremist groups. The sermons of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the mosque's one-eyed, steel-clawed imam, continually stress the importance of jihad. Baker says the mosque is dominated by adherents of Takfir wal Hijra, the neo-fascist Islamic ideology influential among European operatives of al-Qaeda. However extreme its message, Finsbury Park is undeniably popular. At midday prayers on a recent Friday, Abu Hamza preached to a congregation of about 1,200, who came from all over London. Sardar explains that the mosque attracts "younger, more disaffected Muslims, mainly from working-class backgrounds, mostly unemployed, unmarried. These guys see themselves as totally under siege. For them, jihad is a salvation." Sardar might have been describing Reid.


By 1998, jihad was Reid's chosen path. He took the name Abdel Rahim and on his trips back to Brixton harangued listeners. "We warned him where the extremist ideas he was adopting had led people," says Baker. "But he found our beliefs too passive, too slow." Reid told his parents he was going overseas. Robin says his son sent him a letter from Iran, but if Reid visited there at all, it was probably on his way to a madrasah, an Islamic school, in Pakistan. In 1999 and 2000, Reid appears to have spent much of his time in Pakistan. He seems certain to have crossed the border from Pakistan to a terrorist camp in Afghanistan--probably Khalden, not far from Kabul.

Reid had friends there. Roland Jacquard, a French expert on terrorism, says his sources tell him the former head of the Khalden camp, now detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has identified Reid as a former student. Ahmed Ressam, who was convicted in the U.S. in 2001 for his part in the "millennium" plot to blow up the Los Angeles airport and who is now singing to the feds, is a Khalden graduate and is prepared to testify that he saw Moussaoui there in 1998. The camp seems to have specialized in welcoming recruits earmarked for operations in Europe and North America. On Feb. 4, in an important new development, French authorities arrested Yacine Akhnouche, a 27-year-old Franco-Algerian who has become so chatty that an investigator described him as "going Ressam." Akhnouche, says this official, has said he saw Reid, Moussaoui and Ressam at training camps during his visits.

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