'Hamza had spoken to M15 several times'

And he was told that he could continue to preach 'as long as we don't see blood on the street,' a court heard on Thursday.

india Updated: Jan 20, 2006 18:25 IST

The Muslim cleric Abu Hamza spoke to MI5 and Special Branch on several occasions but was told he could continue to preach "as long as we don't see blood on the street," a court heard on Thursday. He said he discussed suicide bombing in a number of lengthy interviews lasting more than an hour and a half.

Taking the witness stand in his own defence, Hamza described working on a building project at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst and said he had kept the plans and taken them to Afghanistan. He is accused of nine counts of soliciting to murder, four counts of using threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour and two counts of possessing abusive recordings with a view to distribution and possession of a document useful to preparing terrorism. He denies the charges.

Hamza said he had been watched by MI5 and added: "They told me they are watching so many groups, there was no suggestion I was singled out. It was Londonistan, not because of me, because of Government policy." He said it was only in the later stages of his interviews with the security service, between 1997 and 2000, that Hamza, the former preacher at Finsbury Park mosque, was told he was "walking a tightrope".

He said: "They said they didn't like (the speeches). I mentioned Salman Rushdie and my position in the mosque."

He said: "They said you have freedom of speech, you don't have to worry as long as we don't see blood on the street. They said until now there is no law against those who commit offences outside England - resistance - but it will come."

Between 1986 and 1989, Hamza studied civil engineering at Brighton Polytechnic and one of his first jobs was a building project at Sandhurst to demolish an old office, build a car park and repair the perimeter fence. Hamza said he had been the sole engineer on the project and that he had kept the plans. "They were very crucial document to any terrorist if they want to do anything," he added.

By that stage he had already met Abdullah Azzam, the leader of the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, on a pilgrimage to Mecca and been invited to join them. Hamza went to Afghanistan after the building company went out of business in 1991. In Afghanistan he helped with the rebuilding work following the Soviet withdrawal but he lost his hands in an accident in 1993 and returned to London. In 1995 he visited Bosnia after he had recovered and on his return he took up preaching positions, first in Luton and then at Finsbury Park.

The Sandhurst plans were taken from Hamza's home when he was arrested in 1999 but returned nine months later, the court was told.

The defence, Edward Fitzgerald QC told the jury: "Let me accept from the start that he has said things which most people will find deeply offensive and hateful but he's not on trial for describing England as a toilet or denouncing democracy or dreaming of a caliph in the White House. There is no crime in being offensive."

He told the court that Hamza was urging his followers not to murder British people but to fight in holy wars where Muslims were being killed in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Kosovo and Palestine. Asked if he had ever intended to urge or incite murder, Hamza replied: "In the context of murder, no. In the context of fighting, yes."

Hamza admitted that he would like to see a caliph (Muslim leader) in Downing Street and Muslims "control the whole Earth".

The court was told that Hamza, 47, was born in Egypt and studied civil engineering at Alexandria University but dropped out after three years of a five-year course and moved to Britain in 1979, aged 21. He was given leave to stay and married his first wife in 1980 before divorcing in 1983. He married his second wife, a British citizen, in 1984 in a Muslim ceremony and now has seven children. His trial continues.

First Published: Jan 20, 2006 18:25 IST