london dispatches

+ "Zubaydah is dead"
13 August, London

+ "Armchair Jihadists"
14 August, London

In mid-August 2002, FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith and his team set out to investigate what has happened to the core of Al Qaeda since the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. Their journey began in London, home to a million Muslims, some of whom are militant extremists with ties to Osama bin Laden.

Smith and his team set up meetings with several of these Islamic militants. They described how Al Qaeda survives today on many levels, and suggested where its members may be operating. (Read, on the left of this page, the producers' e-mail dispatches from London, which offer a fascinating glimpse of their FRONTLINE documentary in the making.)

Smith interviewed Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza al Masri, a militant preacher at the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London. Twenty years ago, Abu Hamza lost both his hands and an eye in a land-mine explosion in Afghanistan. Some investigators believe that Abu Hamza is a terrorist himself -- and he is wanted both in the U.S. and in Yemen on terrorist conspiracy charges. Among those who attended the Finsbury Park Mosque were Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called "20th hijacker," and Richard Reid, the alleged "shoe bomber."

Smith and his co-producer Marcela Gaviria's dispatches about their interview with Abu Hamza convey the impassioned anger of radical Islamists like him, and his firm belief that Al Qaeda endures. "Al Qaeda is structurally dismantled," he told them, "but morally it is stronger than ever. They've gone in the mountains. They've gone into other countries. They've changed their names. They've shaved their beard -- some they have lost their families and some they are waiting to retaliate."

Smith also interviewed Saad al-Fagih, a Saudi dissident with his own ties to bin Laden. Just last year it was revealed that one of bin Laden's satellite phones had been purchased with al-Fagih's credit card. He refused to discuss this issue with FRONTLINE.

"Al Qaeda does not work like a hierarchy," al-Fagih said. "Al Qaeda regards itself as a college or university which have people coming into courses and then graduated. And then they settle down somewhere geographically, somewhere socially, somewhere mentally or intellectually, and somewhere in terms of profession and their job."

Al-Fagih does not believe that bin Laden or other Al Qaeda leaders would leave Afghanistan. However, he said that if bin Laden were to temporarily leave Afghanistan, he thinks he would cross the border into Pakistan.

Interviews

Abu Hamza al Masri
He is an Egyptian cleric who preaches at the Finsbury Park Mosque in Central London. Among those who attended his mosque were Zacarias Moussaoui, whom the U.S. has accused as being the intended 20th hijacker on Sept. 11, Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," and James Ujaama, who was arrested in Seattle and accused of attempting to set up Al Qaeda training camps in the U.S. Abu Hamza is wanted in Yemen on terrorism charges relating to the bombing of the USS Cole. He tells FRONTLINE that Al Qaeda is structurally dismantled but that U.S. action in Afghanistan has created a "time bomb" among sympathetic Muslims.

Saad al-Fagih
A Saudi Arabian dissident living in exile in London, Dr. Saad al-Fagih heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. He tells FRONTLINE that the Saudi regime's claims that they have eradicated Al Qaeda within the kingdom are false and that every Saudi is a potential bin Laden. He also says that sources in Saudi Arabia have told him that the bulk of Al Qaeda leaders are alive and probably hiding in eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan.

Related Links

A Suspect Cleric Rages On
According to this article in the Boston Globe, "Abu Hamza al-Masri, a fiery Muslim cleric, is believed by British counterterrorism officials to be at the ideological center of a web of Al Qaeda cells in Europe." [Nov. 11, 2002]

AK-47 Training Held at London Mosque
The London Observer reports that extremist Islamists trained with assault rifles at the Finsbury Park Mosque headed by Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Feb. 17, 2002]

Secrets of the Mosque
Assif Shameen, the author of this article from Time Magazine's European edition, is a Muslim who visits several British mosques in order to find out what is being preached, "particularly [in] the ones that promote jihad above everything else." [May 6, 2002]

home - introduction -  - mapping the journey
inside the tribal areas - ground zero: pakistan
discussion - interviews - producer's dispatches - readings & links
producer's chat - teachers' guide - tapes & transcripts - press reaction - credits - privacy policy
FRONTLINE - wgbh - pbs

photograph ©afp/corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation