Lincoln Tan

Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Imam at centre of mosque ruckus kept under police surveillance

Abu Abdulla is banned from four mosques. He is a former plastic surgeon.
Abu Abdulla is banned from four mosques. He is a former plastic surgeon.

The man at the centre of a mosque battle in Auckland has allegedly been monitored by police for potential terrorist allegiances.

The Weekend Herald can reveal that Abu Abdulla, an imam who has been banned from the Avondale Islamic Centre, is Mohamed Abu Hamam.

Mr Abdulla confirmed he also goes by the name of Hamam, but did not know if he was the person named in a United States Embassy warning in 2005.

The Federation of Islamic Associations in New Zealand said it was made aware in 2011 of Mr Abdulla's other identity and extremist preaching.

Reports on potential terrorist activity here, including warnings from police to US officials in a cable released by WikiLeaks in 2010, named "Hamam" as a person monitored by the police.

"The New Zealand Police recently provided information indicating some New Zealand Muslims have fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia and possibly Chechnya," the cable said.

"The police are also looking at some New Zealand citizens/residents who may have travelled to the Middle East, including Iraq. A specific example of such a person involves an individual known only as 'Hamam'."

It said Hamam was an Afghan veteran and a surgeon from Egypt.

"He is currently living in Auckland on state benefits and refuses to become employed. He stays in a local mosque and espouses anti-Western views. He is being monitored by the New Zealand Police."

The cable goes on to say some in the community may be sympathetic to terrorist organisations.

Mr Abdulla, 50, said he was a plastic surgeon in Egypt before he moved here in 1998 after one of his family members was targeted and killed by the Egyptian police.

He denied his family had any links with terrorist organisations, but admitted to having worked in Pakistan and several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, which he visited last year.

The father of seven is embroiled in a fight with the New Zealand Muslim Association, which has barred him, his sons and some of his supporters from its mosques in Avondale, Ponsonby, Ranui and Birkenhead.

He was issued a trespass notice first in 2012, and again this month.

The situation has escalated. Earlier this month, a senior member of the association, Haider Lone, was severely beaten at the Avondale mosque.

Mr Lone was in hospital for 10 days, and is now in hiding.

Two men, whose passports were cancelled before they could board a plane to join the Syrian war, attended classes conducted by Mr Abdulla, but he denied asking them to join the conflict.

Abu Abdulla says Muslims are forbidden to be associated with the New Zealand flag because it has the St George Cross on it. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Abu Abdulla says Muslims are forbidden to be associated with the New Zealand flag because it has the St George Cross on it. Photo / Brett Phibbs

A senior member of the association, who requested anonymity, said Mr Abdulla followed Wahhabism, a strand of Islam which Osama bin Laden adhered to, that "promoted extremism, radical and anti-Western" ideas. He described Mr Abdulla as a "destructive force" and someone local Muslim leaders were "trying to remove" from the community.

He said Mr Abdulla preached that those who did not follow Wahhabism, which he believed to be the only path of true Islam, were "infidels".

Mr Abdulla also preached it was "haram" - forbidden - for Muslims to carry, fly or drape themselves in the New Zealand flag.

Mr Abdulla told the Weekend Herald it was forbidden for Muslims to be associated with the NZ flag because the St George Cross was on it.

For the same reason, they were also forbidden to have face paintings or temporary tattoos with the flag.

"From Islam, you cannot raise another flag that represents another religion. You cannot raise the flag of Jews, Christians or the cross, because we're Muslim," he said.

During a Friday khutbah, or public preaching, on the weekend the Rugby World Cup kicked off in 2011, three of those present said Mr Abdulla told the congregation: "Do not be infidels by carrying or waving New Zealand flags to support the All Blacks."

The Blockhouse Bay Rd mosque, where Mr Abdulla has been preaching for the past four years, was closed indefinitely by the association on Monday due to safety concerns.

Acting president Mohammed Faiaz said members had been assaulted and their cars damaged, and mobs had turned up at homes to threaten them and their families.

Mr Faiaz said he received further threats after he was named in a Weekend Herald report last Saturday.

On Sunday, a security man hired to guard the mosque, Bill Frost, was assaulted twice and threatened with jihad, or holy war. He said he understood jihad to be a "religious assassination notice" and fears for his safety and the safety of the seven children who live in his family home.

A Weekend Herald reporter was also threatened and was warned by a worshipper he and the paper would be harmed if further articles on Mr Abdulla or the mosque appeared.

Photos of the reporter, his car and the paper's photographer were uploaded to a Facebook page of one of the mosque members.

Islamic federation president Anwar Ghani said the violence and threats were "highly regrettable" and "totally unacceptable".

"I am disappointed that an arrest hasn't been made," Dr Ghani said.

Dr Ghani said the federation did not support Mr Abdulla's religious views or teaching.

"If this is the kind of feeling he has and these are his views, then I don't think we want that type of person to be involved."

- NZ Herald

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