An Islamic cleric who preached at London’s Finsbury Park Mosque deployed followers for terrorist activities including a deadly hostage-taking and an attempt to set up training camp in Oregon, a prosecutor said.
Abu Hamza al-Masri not only preached the duty to wage war against non-Muslims, he also supplied funds, training and equipment for attacks, Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim told a jury yesterday in opening statements in federal court in Manhattan.
A woman who was taken hostage by the defendant’s followers in a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of four people will testify, Kim said. After escaping, she confronted Abu Hamza years later at his London mosque and recorded the conversation, in which he called the attack “justified,” Kim said.
“This is a case about this man’s global campaign to spread terror,” Kim said. “It was from here that he deployed men to do his terrorist exploits. For his global following he had a stage. You will learn that Abu Hamza did not just talk the talk, he walked the walk. He was not just a preacher of religion, he was a trainer of terrorists.”
Of the 11 charges Abu Hamza faces, the most serious, hostage taking, carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Just before the prosecutor addressed the jury, Abu Hamza, who has vowed to testify at the trial, asked to deliver his own opening statement. The judge rejected the request.
Joshua Dratel, a defense lawyer who referred to Abu Hamza by his given name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, told jurors his client will describe his life when he takes the witness stand. He urged jurors to remember that the majority of the government’s evidence is based on events that occurred before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and should be viewed in that context.
“This case is mainly about what occurred before Sept. 11, 2001,” Dratel said. “Put yourself back to the pre-9/11 context. A lot of what Mr. Mustafa has spoken about and what you’ll hear has to do with the context of what occurred in the 1990s.”
Abu Hamza once headed the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London that was attended by Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to taking part in the Sept. 11 plot to fly planes into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Richard Reid, who was convicted of a foiled plot to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a passenger jet in December 2001, also attended the mosque.
Kim told the jury authorities later recovered knives, chemical warfare suits and other weapons after searching the mosque in the wake of Abu Hamza’s arrest.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest has ruled that prosecutors can cite inflammatory comments made by the defendant over the years and recorded in video and audio tapes that his lawyers argued are too prejudicial. Abu Hamza’s description of Osama bin Laden as a “reformer” is fair game in the trial, as are his assertions that Muslims had a duty to attack nonbelievers and that “terrorism is a tool,” the judge said.
Dratel suggested yesterday that Abu Hamza was just trying to prompt conversation among his followers.
“He needed to be outrageous to reach his entire spectrum of his community,” Dratel said. “He couldn’t walk a road that left him without access to one side or another. To be outrageous is to not be accused of selling out. He liked to say, ‘There is a third way -- of Osama bin Laden on one extreme and George Bush on the other.’ That was his goal, as you will hear him testify.”
The U.S. alleges Abu Hamza and his co-conspirators raised funds from the London mosque and other U.K. venues for the Taliban, helped train people for a jihad in Afghanistan and also attempted to start a terrorist training camp for al-Qaeda in Bly, Oregon, from October 1999 to early 2000.
Born in Egypt, Abu Hamza was granted British citizenship in 1986. Blind in one eye and missing both of his hands, he was brought to the U.S. in 2012 after fighting extradition from the U.K. for almost a decade. 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.
The case is U.S. v. Mustafa, 04-cr-00356, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).