Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Islamic cleric accused of aiding Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a U.S. courtroom after eight years of fighting extradition from the U.K.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in New York set an Aug. 26, 2013, trial date for Abu Hamza, 54. He is charged in an 11-count indictment with supporting the Taliban with money and troops and aiding in a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that left four hostages dead.
He and two al-Qaeda suspects facing charges stemming from tied the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa were extradited on Oct. 6 to New York from the U.K. All three face life in prison if convicted.
In a separate hearing earlier today, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan set an Oct. 7, 2013, trial for Khalid al-Fawwaz, 50, a Saudi national, and Adel Abdel Bary, 52, of Egypt. Both men are charged with participating with bin Laden in a global plot to kill U.S. nationals and attack American facilities.
Abu Hamza, who once preached at the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London, is also accused of attempting in 1999 to start a terrorist training camp for al-Qaeda in Bly, Oregon.
Prosecutors in Manhattan also charged him with providing material support for violent jihad activities and training in Afghanistan.
Forrest today appointed New York-based lawyer Jeremy Schneider to represent Abu Hamza.
Before scheduling the trial for August, the judge proposed earlier dates as early as next April.
“I’d like to get this thing tried as quickly as we can,” she said. “I want to be sure this defendant will be able to get to his next move, whatever that’s going to be,” she said later.
Schneider said he needs time to prepare and hasn’t received the security clearance he needs to view some evidence.
The lawyer also said he has federal trials in January and June that will last several weeks each. He said he may have to travel to the U.K. and Oregon to prepare the case.
“The government has had years,” Schneider said. “He was indicted in 2004. I think they know about the case. I was hoping we could try this case in September. That would make the most sense.”
He said prosecutors often say evidence in terrorism cases will be turned to defense lawyers faster than they typically do.
“In our experience, it doesn’t happen as quickly and as efficiently as they would like,” Schneider said. “An April trial date will only give me a couple of weeks to prepare.”
Schneider’s experience includes defending Khalfan Khamis Mohamed at the 2001 federal trial in New York of four al-Qaeda associates charged in the bombings of U.S. embassies. He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. The attorney also represented Nidal Ayyad, a New Jersey engineer convicted in the 1993 plot to bomb the World Trade Center in New York.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan, who is prosecuting the case with Edward Kim, said the government will immediately give the defense about 8,500 pages of documents. Prosecutors later will provide more evidence including four hard drives and 24 CDs, he said.
Forrest told Schneider to speak to his client to determine whether he would prefer an earlier trial.
The U.S. has sought to prosecute Abu Hamza, whom it calls Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, since May 27, 2004, when he was arrested in London at the request of federal prosecutors in New York.
Abu Hamza, born in Egypt as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was granted British citizenship in 1986. The U.S. says he has other aliases including Abu Hamza and Abu Hamza al-Masri. He told the judge that he prefers “Mustafa.”
He was convicted in the U.K. in 2006 of inciting followers to murder Jews and other non-Muslims in sermons from 1997 to 2000. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
Others who worshipped at the London mosque include Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, who pleaded guilty to being part of the Sept. 11, 2001, plot to fly planes into buildings, and Richard Reid, convicted of a foiled plot to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a passenger jet in 2001.
Abu Hamza, blind in one eye and missing both of his hands, made his second court appearance in the U.S. without use of a prosthetic metal hook he uses.
Schneider said after the court appearance that his client is given limited daytime access to the prosthetic by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Abu Hamza is being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the federal jail in lower Manhattan.
“He is a gentleman,” Schneider said. “As you can imagine, he’s not happy that he’s in a situation like this without use of his prosthetics he needs. I assume BOP will do whatever they can, to do what’s appropriate.”
At a hearing today for al-Fawwaz and Bary, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Buckley told Kaplan the government will turn over evidence to defense lawyers that includes 170,000 images and transcripts of two trials of the five men prosecuted for the 1998 embassy bombings.
The men made their first appearance today before Kaplan in New York. They pleaded not guilty Oct. 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan.
The almost-simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998, killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens. More than 4,500 were injured.
Both were arrested in the U.K. and have fought extradition to the U.S. for more than a dozen years. Al-Fawwaz was arrested in September 1998 and Bary in July 1999, both in London.
“After years of protracted legal battles, the extradition of these three alleged terrorists to the U.S. is a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said Oct. 6.
Prosecutors allege that al-Fawwaz was bin Laden’s London-based contact and helped establish a media office to publicize the group. He obtained a satellite phone for bin Laden which he and other al-Qaeda leadership used before the 1998 attacks, according to the government.
Al-Fawwaz is charged with four conspiracies, including the plot to kill U.S. nationals. All carry life prison terms.
The U.S. alleges that Bary obtained fake travel documents for co-conspirators and headed the London cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group tied to bin Laden that provided logistical assistance.
Authorities searched a London office Bary rented and found his fingerprints on a statement faxed to news organizations taking responsibility for the embassy attacks and for a declaration of war issued by bin Laden in February 1998.
Bary is charged with 284 counts, including conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and the murders of the 224 people killed in both bombings. The most serious charges of conspiracy and murder carry life prison terms.
Five others have been convicted in federal court in New York on charges tied to the 1998 embassy attacks. In 2010, Kaplan presided over the trial of Ahmed Ghailani, convicted of conspiracy. He is serving a life prison term.
Two other men, Babar Ahmad, 38, and Syed Ahsan, 33, who were ordered extradited to the U.S. to face terrorism charges, made initial court appearances on Oct. 6 in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut. They pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
The cases are U.S. v. Mustafa, 04-cr-00356, and U.S. v. al-Fawwaz, 98-cr-01023, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).