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Muslim Cleric in London Accused of Making Inflammatory Remarks - 2003-02-04

British authorities have removed a controversial Muslim cleric from his position as head of a London mosque. The cleric, Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, was accused of making inflammatory remarks.

The British Charities Commission, which has oversight responsibility of all charitable organizations in Britain, including places of worship, says it acted to remove Mr. Hamza because he has abused his position for political ends.

The action comes one day after Mr. Hamza described the explosion of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia as a "punishment from God." He called Columbia's crew "a trinity of evil against Islam" because it included Americans, an Israeli and a Hindu.

But the Egyptian-born cleric's radical brand of Islam and his fiery rhetoric have long drawn attention in Britain.

It is alleged that convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and the so-called 20th hijacker in the September 11, 2001, attacks, Zacharias Moussaoui, who is awaiting trial in the United States, were both associated with the Finsbury mosque in north London where Mr. Hamza preached.

The head of the British Charities Commission, John Stoker, said the action against the Muslim cleric is very specific. "He is prevented from preaching under the terms of the order," said Mr. Stoker. "We expect that he will observe the terms of the order. If he does not observe it, there are various things that we will be able to do. At the end of the line, the position is that an order by the commission in a case like this can be enforceable on the same basis as contempt of court could be enforceable."

But the cleric is threatening to defy the ban, and his lawyer says they are considering taking legal action.