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7 Arrested in Anti-Terror Raid on London Mosque - 2003-01-20

British anti-terrorist police are questioning seven suspects arrested in a raid on a controversial London mosque.

Police report they confiscated a stun gun, a gun that shoots blanks, and an illegal gas similar to teargas during the raid. They also seized computers and tested for chemical weapons as they widen an anti-terrorist sweep throughout Britain.

The raid on the Finsbury Park mosque in north London had the timing and trappings of a military operation.

Scores of officers battered down the doors, while police helicopters hovered overhead beaming spotlights on the scene. More than 50 police vehicles converged on the mosque.

Scotland Yard says it arrested six North African men and one man from Eastern Europe. They range in age from 22 to 48-years-old.

Police say the raid is the result of information gathered since the discovery two weeks ago of traces of a deadly poison, called ricin, in a north London apartment. Police said no chemicals were found at the mosque and two neighboring residences also were raided.

Deputy Police Chief Andy Trotter told reporters that officers confined their search to the offices and residential areas of the mosque, and the investigation is ongoing.

"It was an intelligence-led operation to look for particular people. And also to look for particular documents. And so far the justification for the raid has proved to be correct because of the things we have found so far. There's a lot more to do. There is a fair amount of property to search and more documents to go through," Deputy Trotter explained.

Finsbury Park mosque is the headquarters of Abu Hamza al-Masri, a controversial cleric who in the past has praised Osama bin Laden, leader of the al-Qaida terrorist network.

The Egyptian-born Mr. Al-Masri lost a hand and an eye while fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and he is wanted in Yemen on terror-related charges.

Speaking to reporters outside the Mosque, he dismissed the police raid as propaganda, intended to increase public support for Britain's role in the war on terrorism and the showdown with Iraq.

"The police have a lot of cameras and surveillance and infiltration inside the mosque. So if you have all these kinds of things, why use helicopters and do this kind of thing? It is just propaganda, is not it," Mr. Al-Masri said.

The Finsbury Park mosque has for years attracted supporters of Islamic militancy, including Zacharais Mousaoui who is accused in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States and Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber" who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight last year.