James Slack in London and Daniel Bates in New York — Daily Mail May 9, 2014
The full extent of Abu Hamza’s contact with British security services was revealed last night.
The hook-handed cleric held 12 secret meetings with Special Branch and MI5.
He was repeatedly questioned by security officials between 1997 and 2003 – the year before he was finally arrested for inciting murder.
The revelations came after it was claimed at his New York terror trial that he acted as an intermediary between MI5 and Islamist fanatics to ‘keep the streets of London safe’.
Whitehall officials confirmed the extent of the contact between Hamza and police and security agents, which involved nine meetings in 1997 and 1998 alone.
But they downplayed suggestions that a deal had been done to protect Hamza from arrest in return for information on terror plots or help in smoothing community relations.
Senior sources suspect Hamza of trying to re-write his past for the court’s benefit.
He could be jailed for life in the US if charges of hostage-taking and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, are proved.
Yesterday, Hamza sobbed in the witness box at Manhattan Federal Court as he addressed two of the most notorious episodes from his past.
For years, followers believed he had stood alongside mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s against the occupying Soviets and had lost his arms in a landmine blast.
But Hamza claimed that, in fact, his arms were blown off while he was working on a road project in Pakistan in 1993 when he tried to throw a container of explosives away.
He later had hooks fitted by the NHS, he said.
The fanatic also said that in Afghanistan, he had not been a rebel fighter but a health and safety officer ensuring that trenches did not collapse.
‘I was responsible for health and safety of the mujahideen,’ he said.
There was a moment of levity when Hamza told the court that he had obtained a passport with a new name to deliver aid supplies to Muslim forces in Bosnia in 1994 as the situation there was so dangerous for Arabs.
‘It is very simple in Britain,’ he said. ‘You pay £25 and you say you want to be John Travolta and you become John Travolta.’
District Judge Katherine Forrest then asked: ‘And did you become John Travolta?’ He replied. ‘No, madam.’
Hamza said his only involvement with the Afghan conflict was to ‘fire a few bullets at the Communist regime’.
He added that his ‘reputation is much, much bigger than the reality’.
During a sometimes emotional testimony, he banged his stumps on the witness box. He also broke down in tears as he talked about the massacre of Muslims in Srebrenica in Bosnia in 1995.
The judge called a seven-minute break and Hamza, who had a red nose from sobbing, left the court to compose himself.
On Wednesday, lawyers for Hamza told of his claim that he had been working with MI5, while running the notorious Finsbury Park mosque in north London.
Hamza had previously claimed – at his 2005/6 trial in Britain for using his sermons to incite murder – that his preaching had been tacitly approved by MI5.
He said he had been approached in 1997 by officers from MI5 who had indicated that his speeches did not break the law, but that position had changed in 2000.
Hamza told the court: ‘I said, “My sermons, is it a problem?” They said, “Well, it’s freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry as long as we don’t see blood on the streets”. Only in 2000 they said, “We think you are walking on a tightrope”. They said there were some things that they don’t like.’
But just how much contact Hamza had with the security services is only now emerging.
Between 1997 and 1998 there were six meetings between Hamza and an MI5 officer and, separately, three meetings with Special Branch.
He met MI5 and Special Branch again in 2000 and had a final meeting with the police in 2003.
Despite the number of meetings, Whitehall sources cast doubt on Hamza’s claims (Naturally they would. Ed).