LONDON — As much of the world paused Wednesday to mourn the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, a group of Islamic militants praised the “positive outcomes” of the violence they claim to reject, and offered support to the aims of Osama bin Laden.
The fundamentalists, in what appeared to be the most radical Muslim gathering on the anniversary of the terrorist atrocities, said al-Qaida had a “rational justification” for the attacks, but denied having ties to bin Laden’s terror network.
“The attack in New York was a counterattack for the attacks in Iraq and Palestine,” said Muhammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident who attended the meeting at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London.
“One Muslim decided to take action... He took one eye for a hundred. He still has 99 eyes to go,” al-Massari added and praised bin Laden as a hero “fighting for his beliefs.”
A dozen or so men with kaffiyehs over their faces stood on the steps of the north London mosque, barring about 50 journalists from entering the building, which is widely regarded as a center of radical Islam in Britain.
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed said the meeting at Finsbury Park Mosque, titled “Sept. 11, 2001: A Towering Day in History,” argues that the attacks were justified because Muslims must defend themselves against armed aggression.
“I don’t believe in using violence,” Mohammed told journalists before the meeting. “Definitely al-Qaida has got rational justification for what they did on Sept. 11. Maybe I disagree with them, but they have the right to fight back especially after they (the United States) bombed Sudan, then they bombed Afghanistan.”
Mohammed heads Al-Muhajiroun, a militant group that recruits on university campuses and encourages members to join armed struggles abroad. It says its goal is to make Britain an Islamic state.
A statement issued at the end of the meeting condemned “any and all aggression against the government of the Taliban” — the ousted Afghan regime.
It accused the United States of acting as if it is “above any law” and said “the only Islamic response to such unparalleled arrogance and oppression is to do one’s utmost to resist the oppression no matter how weak one may find oneself.”
Al-Masri, who lost his hands and left eye fighting the former Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan, said this Sept. 11 was “a day of thinking and rethinking and getting the message out. I know many Muslims are oppressed. This is not a day to celebrate,” said al-Masri, who is a prayer leader at the mosque and denies supporting terrorism.
His funds were frozen by the U.S. Treasury for his alleged membership in the Islamic Army of Aden. That organization is linked to al-Qaida and claimed responsibility for the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000, in which 17 American sailors were killed.
He has had British citizenship since 1985, and is protected by British law from extradition to Yemen.