British anti-terrorist police are questioning seven suspects arrested in a raid Monday on London's most controversial mosque. Police also seized computers and tested for chemical weapons as they widen an anti-terrorist sweep. 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 stems from information gathered since the discovery two weeks ago of traces of a deadly poison, called ricin, in a north London apartment. Police say no chemicals were found at the mosque and two neighboring residences that 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," he said. "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's a fair amount of property to search and more documents to go through."
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," al-Masri said. "So if you have all these kinds of things, why use helicopters and do this kind of thing? It's just propaganda, isn't it."
The Finsbury Park mosque has for years attracted supporters of Islamic militancy, including Zacharais Mousaoui, accused in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and Richard Reid, convicted as the so-called "shoe bomber" who tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight last year.