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Boss of Finsbury Park mosque hits back at imprisonment claims

PUBLISHED: 13:00 27 August 2014

Mr Kozbar claims he was worried about

Mr Kozbar claims he was worried about "malicious journalism"

TONY GAY at tonephote@aol.com

The boss of Finsbury Park Mosque has hit back at claims he imprisoned a journalist for asking awkward questions.

Ben Flanagan, who works for Arab news channel Al Arabiya, says he was locked in a room for 30 minutes against his will at the St Thomas’s Road mosque following an interview with manager Mohammed Kozbar.

Mr Flanagan alleged the situation turned nasty when he started asking about the mosque’s relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egyptian group currently being investigated by the British Government.

But Mr Kozbar, in charge following the departure of hook-handed preacher Abu Hamza – who was recently convicted of terrorism charges in the US – claimed he just wanted to see some identification, as he was worried about “malicious journalism”.

He said: “He asked if he could come and talk about the changes we have made to the mosque since Abu Hamza.

“For a few minutes he asked those questions, then he started asking about lots of different things. Not that we have anything to hide, but we felt he had misled us and was trying to ambush us to create a story.

Bad experiences

“We started to worry he was a malicious journalist, especially as we have had bad experiences in the past, so we asked to see some photo identification to prove who he was.

“He couldn’t do that, so we called the police.

“Maybe it wasn’t the right thing to keep him there, but we were worried. We offered him tea and coffee while we waited, it wasn’t like he was in prison.

“We didn’t intimidate him in any way, we just weren’t sure he was who he said he was.”

Mr Flanagan said the mosque despite the mosque’s newfound reputation for openness, there are some issues it still wants to keep quiet.

He said: “The interview was going well until I raised the subject of the mosque’s links to the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been subject to a government review as to whether it has links to extremism or violence, the results of which are about to be released to the public.

“I saw it as deeply relevant to any story.”

“I’m surprised that Mr Kozbar felt ‘ambushed’ as this was certainly not the tone of my questions or my approach to the interview.

“It is not true that I did not show him identification – I showed him various forms of ID, as well as an email from an editor commissioning the story I planned to write, but he was not satisfied by this.

“I’ve worked as a journalist for 13 years and have never been treated like this before. At the same time, I do understand that the mosque has faced intense media scrutiny in the past and is sensitive to negative coverage.

“I think the article I wrote on this experience was extremely balanced given the circumstances.”

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