Abu Hamza, the extremist cleric, has claimed in court that he was working with British intelligence “to keep the streets of London safe” while preaching hatred in the UK.
Testifying in New York for the first time in his New York trial Mr Hamza’s lawyer said that he had cooperated with MI5 and police with the brief of “cooling hotheads”.
Holding up what he said were reports from Scotland Yard, Joshua Dratel described the cleric as an “intermediary” who secretly helped to try and end foreign hostage-taking and defuse tensions in the years leading up to 9/11.
It will inevitably fuel conspiracy theories that Hamza, who has already served a six year jail term in the UK for inciting racial hatred and inciting murder, was allowed to preach extremism without arrest.
Joshua Dratel, defending Hamza, who was extradited to the US in 2012, said: “It goes to the theme of our defence that he was an intermediary, that MI5 asked him on multiple times to act in hostage situations, cool down the community and maintain a sense of order.”
The defence wants to introduce the reports into the case. But the judge has so far ruled the evidence inadmissible.
While the claims have been greeted with surprise, Hamza’s relationship has been speculated on for years.
During his UK trial in 2006, Hamza claimed he was in regular conversations with MI5 and Special Branch between 1997 and 2000. He claimed then that he was told he could continue to preach “as long as we don’t see blood on the street”.
Robin Simcox, a research fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, told Channel 4 News that the security service connection needs to be viewed in its historical context.
“Hamza has been known to the security services, but there a climate of tolerance that was very different in the days before 9/11. The idea of a deliberate collusion seems harder to buy.
“If he did go unchecked, the reason was more about a failure in the collective imagination to realise the devastating effects extremist radicalisation could have in the years leading up to 9/11,” he said. “But this idea that he was simply acting as a pawn of the state feels somewhat fanciful.”
Hamza told the Manhattan federal court how before becoming a devoted Islam he had run a strip club in Soho, London and had been “on the wrong side of morality” as he just “make money and enjoy” himself.
Earlier in the trial, the court heard from a prosecution witness from New Zealand, who was among the 16 tourists taken hostage in Yemen. Mary Quin told the court that Hamza was involved in the kidnapping of Western tourists in 1998, in which four hostages were killed during a rescue attempt by the Yemeni military.
Abu Hamza’s lawyer claimed the radical had merely acted as a mediator to help negotiate their release.
Hamza, 56, faces charges of funnelling cash and recruits to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, involvement in hostage-taking in Yemen in which three Britons were killed, and trying to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon.
He denies all 11 terror charges.