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Police search prayer area in mosque raid in London

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2003

LONDON: Police searched the prayer area of a north London mosque known for radicalism during a raid linked to the recent discovery of the deadly poison ricin, they said Saturday.

Officers raided the Finsbury Park mosque on Monday and finished their search on Thursday.

Police said shortly after the search began that officers had not entered prayer areas, but a spokeswoman for London's Metropolitan Police said they later decided it was necessary to do so.

"This was never our intention, but having recovered weapons...in another part of the building on the first day of the search, we were forced to review our operational strategy," she said on condition of anonymity.

She said police notified the mosque's trustees of their plans ahead of time, wore covers over their shoes as a sign of respect and completed their search quickly.

"The Metropolitan Police is wholly aware of the sensitivity of such a search, but evidence gathered elsewhere in the building made it absolutely necessary," she said. "The Metropolitan Police Service would have been failing in its duty to protect the public and regular users of the mosque if it had not completed the search in a thorough way."

Police arrested seven men in the raid but have since cleared five of ties to terrorism. One man has been released without charge and four were being held Saturday in connection with alleged immigration offenses, police said.

Two North African men were still being held Saturday under terrorism legislation.

The operation was linked to the Jan. 5 discovery of the deadly poison ricin in a London apartment.

Police found no ricin in the mosque but seized computers, passports and credit cards. They also found a stun gun, a canister of CS gas, similar to pepper spray, and a blank-firing imitation gun.

Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical cleric who preaches at the mosque, was not among those arrested. The government's charity watchdog has ordered him to give up his pulpit, but he vows to continue preaching outside the building.

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