London Mosque With Terror Past Locks Up Journalist

Al Jazeera journalist held against his will for 30 minutes after asking about Muslim Brotherhood at Al Qaeda cleric's former mosque.

Ari Yashar ,

Al Qaeda cleric Abu Hamza
Al Qaeda cleric Abu Hamza

A British journalist working for Al Jazeera was held against his will while trying to get an interview at London's Finsbury Park Mosque, which formerly was run by the notorious Al Qaeda cleric Abu Hamza, recently convicted on multiple terror charges.

In an article Sunday, journalist Ben Flanagan documented his visit along with video footage filmed on his cell phone, and shows how he was locked in a room and not let out until police came.

The mosque switched management in 2005, trying to shake off its ties with Abu Hamza and his close associates Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a jetliner with a shoe bomb, and Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the masterminds behind the September 11 attacks, both of whom attended the mosque.

Flanagan reports that in early July he set up a meeting with Finsbury Park Mosque manager Mohammed Kozbar to write about the changes in the mosque since Abu Hamza's days.

However, the journalist apparently hit a nerve when he asked if the mosque had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a group banned in Egypt. It is worth noting that Al Jazeera, which is owned by the government of Qatar, has been called "the Muslim Brotherhood channel," making Flanagan's angle in asking the question somewhat unclear.

After initial opposition Kozbar gave some unreported remarks on the issue and ended the interview, immediately demanding a copy of the interview tape. While Flanagan was preparing the tape, he reports that Kozbar called the police saying he was suspicious of the journalist's credentials.

At this point the manager locked the door, effectively imprisoning Flanagan in the mosque until the police came. It took 30 minutes until Flanagan was released at their arrival, and not before he contacted the police himself to report that he was being held against his wall.

The journalist, as a freelancer newly returned from the Middle East, did not have a National Union of Journalists card. Instead he presented an e-mail from the commissioning editor asking for the interview and other forms of identification, as well as previous work as proof that he was a journalist.

Police briefly questioned Flanagan when they arrived and then let him go, after which he decided not to press charges. Several follow-up attempts to contact Kozbar by the journalist later were met with reticence, as Kozbar defended himself saying he thought Flanagan was a "malicious" journalist misrepresenting himself.

The Al Jazeera journalist argued that Finsbury Park Mosque indeed has Muslim Brotherhood ties, noting that a group under the umbrella Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) took control in 2005 after Abu Hamza's arrest.

MAB was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and has openly expressed its support for the group, although it has no a direct partnership. Flanagan noted that Kozbar is vice president of MAB.

There has been a growing concern over Muslim Brotherhood's activity in the UK, leading the government to order a probe of the group's activities to which the head of the group threatened terrorism if it was banned in Britain.