In the Media

Dad is a coward, a hypocrite and he deserves to rot in jail

PUBLISHED August 1, 2006

SHE knew him simply as Dad, a kindly presence in her life who would tell her that she was ?his little girl? as she nestled in his muscular arms.

Now Donna Traverso, 25, despises her former stepfather Abu Hamza al-Masri for shattering her family and abandoning her at the age of 5.

In her first interview, she tells The Times how the Egyptian disappeared with her beloved little half-brother, Mohammed, and told him that his mother was dead. He tried to lure her away at the same time, she said.

She is convinced that he duped her mother, Valerie Fleming, into wrongly naming him on the birth certificate as Donna?s biological father because he was trying to gain the right to stay in Britain.

Her words come on the eve of Abu Hamza?s latest bid for freedom. Tomorrow his lawyers will apply for leave to appeal against convictions for soliciting murder, inciting racial hatred and possessing offensive material.

Ms Traverso, now married with three children and living in Hertfordshire, said: ?How dare he lecture ordinary working people about Western morals.

?He left me without saying goodbye, destroyed my family and told his own son that his mother was dead. He has not had the decency to try and explain why he left or why he took Mohammed. He is a coward and a hypocrite, and deserves to rot in jail.?

Her earliest memories of him are far from the ranting Finsbury Park preacher with only one eye and a hook for a hand. Back then he was a broad, 6ft (1.8m) bouncer working at a Soho nightclub and was known as Mostafa Kamal Mostafa.

She remembers him as the perfect father as he relaxed at home in jeans and a leather jacket.

?He was kind, and played with me. He was always telling me that I was his little girl, even as I got older and started to question whether he was really my dad,? she said.

Abu Hamza met Donna?s mother in March 1980. He was 21 and working as a receptionist in a hotel where she was living. She already had a child and was pregnant with Donna.

Ms Fleming?s complicated domestic arrangements did not put him off. In May that year they married and moved into a council flat in Roehampton, southwest London. When Ms Fleming?s baby was born in September, Abu Hamza was named on the birth certificate as Donna?s father.

Today, Ms Traverso sees this move as highly suspicious. She believes that her mother was tricked by Abu Hamza into illegally putting the wrong man?s name on her birth certificate.

?He needed to get married and have a baby of his own to stay in Britain,? she said. ?He used me and my Mum.?

Indeed, Abu Hamza had come to Britain in 1979 on a one-month tourist visa. His case for staying in Britain was greatly helped by marriage and fatherhood. The baby was named Nahed Donna Mustafa, after Abu Hamza?s mother, who was a schoolteacher, but she was always known as Donna.

Four days after Donna?s birth, Abu Hamza instructed solicitors to write to the Home Office informing them that he was married to an Englishwoman, had become a father and now wanted to ?regularise? his stay in Britain. In December 1980 his attempt to gain UK citizenship was almost derailed when he was arrested as an illegal immigrant while working as a doorman at a pornographic cinema in Soho. But he pleaded his family responsibilities before the courts and was granted a conditional discharge.

The new family moved from their council house in South London to a council flat in Roehampton. Eleven months later Ms Traverso?s brother, Mohammed, was born. They became inseparable.

?We were in the same year at school and did everything together. Mohammed was obsessed with playing with insects, and he had this infectious laugh. I adored him,? she said.

There were few signs of the religious fanaticism that was to come, although at one point Ms Traverso noticed a marked increase in Islamic practices.

?My Mum would sometimes wear the hijab, and he would pray often, something I really liked to watch because it was so calming,? she said.

?We also got rid of all of the figurines and photographs in the flat on the grounds that they were idols and un-Islamic.?

She later learnt that the couple had turned to Islam after her mother discovered that Abu Hamza had been unfaithful with a prostitute. Together they had decided to turn their backs on his ?Soho? lifestyle.
The little girl liked to watch Abu Hamza pray. ?I thought he was such a good man,? she said.

But the marriage broke down, and in August 1984 Abu Hamza and Ms Fleming divorced. A few months later he married his present wife, Nagat Chaffe.

The two families remained close for the sake of the children. They would get together for large family meals at his new home in Shepherds Bush, West London. Ms Traverso and Mohammed would play with Mohsen Gailan, Chaffe?s four-year-old son from her first marriage.

In 1985 Abu Hamza told his stepdaughter and her mother that his father, an army officer in Alexandria, was ill. He asked permission to take the two children with him on a visit to see the family home.

Ms Traverso said that for some unknown reason she knew that she should not go. ?Even though I was young, I said no. Thank God I did that,? she said.

Abu Hamza disappeared with his son and failed to return after six weeks. Ms Traverso remembers the frantic search that involved the Home Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and police.

They contacted old friends of the couple, but no one could help them to find Abu Hamza or Mohammed.

The disappearance of her father and brother had a devastating effect: ?I had lost them, with no explanation. It was then that I began to hate him.?

She began to have haunting dreams about her little brother. ?I would see him coming towards me on the flat balcony, but then as he came near he would disappear,? she said.

As the years went by, her attitude towards Abu Hamza hardened. But she longed to see her brother again.

Then in 1998, having given up all hope, she received a frantic telephone call from her mother. ?My Mum was screaming, saying that Mostafa is on the television, only he looks really different,? she said.

Instead of the broad Egyptian, they saw a wild cleric who had lost one eye and both hands ? one of which had been replaced with a hook.

The preacher from Finsbury Park mosque was defending himself against accusations that he had sent a group of young Muslims from Britain to the Yemen for terrorist training.

Six of the men had been arrested, prompting the kidnapping of Western tourists by Islamist radicals, it was alleged. Four of the tourists were then killed in a gunfight with police.

It was all too much for Ms Traverso, then 18. The news progamme said that Mohammed was also on the run in Yemen, wanted under terrorist charges. ?I heard that and I began saying to myself, ?Go on Mohammed, hide, we will try and get you back?,? she said.

Mohammed was caught and put on trial for terrorist offences. Ms Traverso and her family were relieved that he was alive, and arranged to go out to Yemen.

After 14 years apart, she was finally reunited with her brother in a filthy cell. ?We just cried. We had so much to catch up on, but it was difficult. I was still expecting to see this cheeky little boy, not a big man who looked very much like his father,? she said.

It was then that Mohammed told Ms Traverso that he had thought his mother was dead and that therefore Ms Traverso would be impossible to find.

Mohammed was keen to reach out to his sister. One day, as they sat in his cell, he presented her with two battered rings that he had bribed a security guard to buy from a local bazaar. ?Given what he had risked and done to get them, I was really touched,? she said.

Her fury with Abu Hamza steadily rose during the trial of Mohammed and nine other British men, who included Abu Hamza?s stepson, Mohsen Gailan.

The court was told that the case against the young men would be halted or dropped if Abu Hamza appea
red in court. Instead, he appeared on television saying that he was going nowhere, claiming that the young men had gone to Yemen on their own volition.

?I heard that and thought, ?You coward. You can help your own children by facing up to your responsibilities, and you won?t do it?,? she said.

Mohammed was sentenced to three years, his stepbrother to seven. Ms Traverso kept in touch with Mohammed in prison with occasional letters in which they tried to rebuild their relationship.

?We would reminisce about the Roehampton days. We liked similar music ? Michael Jackson ? and he liked to talk about martial arts films. But it was difficult,? she said.

He was released in January 2002 and flew back to Britain to be met at the airport by Abu Hamza?s family.

Since then he has not been in touch with Ms Traverso ? she believes that he did not like to see criticism of Abu Hamza, attributed to her mother, in the British press.

Ms Traverso, who speaks warmly of her brother, added that she can no longer think of the cleric Abu Hamza as somone she has ever known.

?That crazy man is nothing to do with the man I called Dad. He should stay locked up for a very long time,? she said.

  • July 79: Abu Hamza al-Masri (then Mostafa Kamal Mostafa) arrives in Britain on a one-month tourist visa
  • May 80: He marries Valerie Fleming, a pregnant mother of one
  • Sept 80: Nahed Donna Mostafa is born. Abu Hamza is named as father
  • Oct 80: Abu Hamza applies for permission to stay. He gets leave to remain until May 1982 on grounds of marriage to British citizen
  • Oct 81: Mohammed is born
  • Aug 82: Abu Hamza is granted indefinite leave to remain in Britain
  • Aug 83: The children attend nursery
  • Spring 84: Ms Fleming discovers he had a one-night stand with a prostitute. They divorce in August
  • Oct 84: Marries Nagat Chaffe, who already has a son, Mohsen Ghailan
  • Early 85: He asks Ms Fleming if he can take the children to Egypt on holiday. He is given permission to take Mohammed. Six weeks later neither can be found
  • Dec 98: Ten British men are arrested in Yemen. Sixteen Western tourists kidnapped in retaliation; four shot during rescue. Mohammed and Ghailan accused of terrorist offences
  • Jan 99: Donna flies out to meet her brother. He says Abu Hamza told him that his mother died. Abu Hamza is named as mastermind of terrorist plot. Mohammed is jailed for three years, his stepbrother for seven
  • Jan 2002: Mohammed returns to UK. Does not get in touch with Donna
  • Jan 2006: Abu Hamza goes on trial at the Old Bailey. He is jailed for seven years for incitement to murder, race hate and one terrorism offence