LONDON (AFP) -Invocations of radical Islam no longer resonate in Finsbury Park mosque as it puts its militant past — including its links with the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001 — behind it.
"A new beginning for the mosque," says a banner that hangs over the doorway of the north London mosque, which Friday drew Muslims of all ages, backgrounds and dress.
But in the wake of the London bombings last month that killed 56 people, including four apparent Islamist suicide bombers, there is a degree of skepticism over the government”s attempts to clamp down on radicalism.
Once the lair of hook-handed cleric Abu Hamza, the mosque — whose more notorious worshippers have included "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States in connection with September 11 — reopened under new administration in February.
Some 500 attend the mosque on average, mostly Muslims of Somalian, north African, Bangladeshi and Pakistani background, said Mustafa al-Mansur, the mosque”s spokesman, who is himself from Bangladesh.
"There are two types of people. There are people who stopped coming because of the previous management because they didn”t feel safe or comfortable, and there are people who didn”t care," he told AFP.
"We don”t see any recognizable faces any more," he added. "Since Abu Hamza left, the mosque was closed for several months. When Abu Hamza left there was a sigh of relief… Even some Abu Hamza supporters thanked us."
Egyptian-born Abu Hamza was detained by the British authorities in May 2004 on a US demand for his extradition to face charges of aiding Al-Qaeda and setting up an alleged terrorist training camp in Oregon state.
He had already lost his grip on the mosque, in January 2003, when police raided the premises, leaving him to preach on the sidewalk. He denies involvement in terrorism; his lieutenants have slipped out of sight.
In his day, Finsbury Park mosque saw a number of would-be terrorist suspects pass through its doors, including Reid, Moussaoui — once branded the 20th September 11 hijacker — and Djamel Beghal, convicted in France for plotting to attack US interests in 2002.
This past Friday a Pakistani imam, Souhaib Hassan, preached to his fellow Muslims in English — seasoned with quotations in Arabic — on morality and the qualities one needs in order to marry in the Islamic faith.
"The mosque does not set an agenda for Friday prayers (but) we try to make sure that whoever we bring here to speak respects certain boundaries," Mansur explained.
"I think Muslims can police themselves within their religious practice," he added, criticising what he called "draconian rules" set out by Prime Minister Tony Blair in the wake of the London bombings.
Those measures notably include deportation of foreign-born Muslims deemed to be sympathetic to terrorism.
Outside the mosque Friday, two members of the Islamist party Hizb-ut-Tahrir collected signatures on a petition to protest the government”s measures and Blair”s intended ban on their movement.
"Tony Blair has made himself a laughing stock," said Mansur of the prime minister who was already unpopular among many Muslims in Britain for having sided with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.
"He is the new sheikh for the Muslims. You will hear names like ”mufti Blair” or ”sheikh Blair”."
Mansur cast doubt on the effectiveness of Blair”s strategy, saying that if Muslims are "radicalising", it is not because of people hearing fiery sermons, "but because of what they see in the media".
"Muslims will sympathize with other Muslims in the world. They look for a channel to vent their anger."