By Alishba Khaliq
A report by campaign group Hope not Hate claims that French spies designed a plot to assassinate the London-based preacher in the UK capital during the late 90s.
French spies were to send fake death threats pretending to be from the far-right extremist group Combat 18 and then kill Abu Hamza using weapons similar to those associated with the group.
The plan, formed in 1999, intended to take advantage of concerns about far-right extremism in the wake of the London nail bombings by David Copeland which resulted in the death of three people and injuries to over hundred.
In an earlier, separate plot, the French intelligence service Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE) considered kidnapping Abu Hamza outside his home in West London. The Hope not Hate report reads: “He would be nabbed on the street, forced into the back of a van and then driven to Dover and snuck onto a French ferry.”
Entitled ‘Gateway to Terror’ the report is a study of the group al-Muhajiroun which Abu Hamza was suspected to have links with. It states that Abu Hamza’s sermons at Finsbury Park mosque in north London were considered to be a motivation for Algerian fanatics. The plan to kidnap the preacher was formed amid concerns about potential Algerian terrorist attacks targeting the 1998 football World Cup in France.
Frustrated at “the inaction of Special Branch and MI5 in the UK” not doing a sufficient amount to tackle “fundamentalism”, French security officials considered “taking matters into their own hands”, according to the Chief Executive of Hope not Hate and co-writer of the report, Nick Lowles.
A former member of the DGSE, Yves Trotignan, denies any intentions by French intelligence services to assassinate Abu Hamza. He told France 24: “French intelligence bosses have some fairly madcap ideas put in front of them – and I can’t say categorically that something like this wasn’t thought up by someone somewhere”. But he insisted that an idea “so obviously politically counter-productive” would have been “thrown straight in the bin”.
Though he admitted that “one or two” French intelligence members were “frustrated” over the freedom that Muslim preachers had in the UK, Trotignan claimed the DGSE would never have carried out such an assassination. “Our number one priority was always cooperation with the British, who had outspoken Islamists like Abu Hamza under unimpeachably close surveillance,” he said. “We understood perfectly that for legal reasons they could not be arrested, but MI5 always knew exactly what these people were doing, with whom they were communicating and what they were thinking. And they shared this information with us.”
Lowles however told France 24 that the information in the report was from a “reliable” DGSE source and he was “100 percent sure” of its veracity. He said: “The French intelligence services were definitely considering whether Combat 18 could be blamed” for Abu Hamza’s killing.
Both the assassination and kidnapping plans were ultimately not implemented. After a long legal battle Abu Hamza was jailed in 2006 for inflaming racial hatred and murder, and extradited to the US on charges of terrorism last year.