He would later become one of the most hardline, conservative preachers in all of Islam but Abu Hamza was seduced on his arrival in the West by Britain’s most lascivious hotspots and a married woman.
Allowed into Britain from Egypt on a student visa, Hamza signed up for engineering classes in Brighton, the biggest party town in the country. He soon graduated from the drug-and-alcohol fueled beach party scene to London’s most sinful neighborhood.
He picked up work as a bouncer for a peep show in Soho, London’s red-light district, where prostitutes and drug-dealers in the late 1970s plied their trades in a network of narrow streets at the heart of the city. In among the gay bars and risqué bookshops, Hamza started working on the fringes of the sex industry. He told a court in New York on Wednesday, where he is on trial on terrorism-related charges, that he was later promoted to “co-manager of a strip club.”
He admitted that he had “looked forward to a Western life, American-style” as he had seen in the Hollywood movies before travelling to Britain as a 21-year-old student. He grew up in Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast near Italy where foreigners were common, but Islamic restrictions were still commonplace.
Hamza, 56, who wears a hook on one hand, is currently on trial in New York accused of providing material support to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, trying to set up a jihadi training camp in Oregon and conspiring to take Western hostages in Yemen, an incident that claimed the lives of three Britons.
When he touched down in Britain on July 13, 1979, he was known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa. He was a good-looking man with broad shoulders who was described by friends as “a womanizer.” He soon met an Englishwoman named Valerie Traverso, who was already pregnant with a child by her husband, Michael Macias.
The husband and wife had recently separated but not divorced. Despite the legal impediment, Hamza convinced Traverso to marry him. It was a bigamous wedding but one that convinced the British immigration authorities that Hamza should be allowed to stay in the country. A decision the government would come to bitterly regret over the coming decades.
By 2003, the Labour government was desperately trying to revoke his citizenship and send him back to Egypt after a string of reprehensible statements that included celebrating 9/11 in his position as preacher at a London mosque.
In 2004, he was found guilty in the British courts on 11 counts related to the possession of a terrorist handbook and his radical sermons. In the same year, the U.S. requested his extradition for the offenses that he is now facing a decade later.
Before the more serious allegations came to light, Hamza was already one of the most hated men in Britain after tirelessly expressing his ultra-conservative views.
The depth of his hypocrisy emerged before a jury for the first time yesterday, as he attempted to blame Valerie Traverso for his lurch towards radical Islam. He said she had persuaded him to study Islam because she was interested in the religion. “She was persistent,” he said. “She pushed too hard.”
In the years after he became a British citizen in 1986, British women who converted to Islam were one of the many targets of his hate speech. “When they accept Islam, they think it’s a fashion, they become covered, become veiled and next day they have the bikini again,” he said.
Gays were another favorite target of sermons he gave while head of the radical Finsbury Park mosque in North London. He claimed Allah was responsible for HIV: “They have a common punishment amongst them and they have the virus to run after them wherever they go.”
And what of his first employers in London? They should be attacked, he has said. “Every place of iniquity, every brothel, every video shop which is selling naked, for the victorious party is a target,” he told his followers.
He told the New York jury this week that it is “painful” every time he sees written evidence of his hypocrisy. It must be difficult to miss.