May 13 (Bloomberg) -- Abu Hamza al-Masri, a Muslim cleric on trial in the U.S. for supporting the al-Qaeda network, told a jury of his admiration for Osama bin Laden and said the World Trade Center was blown up by the U.S. government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan today questioned Abu Hamza in Manhattan federal court about statements he made in media interviews as well as recorded speeches and sermons, expounding his views while preaching in the 1990s at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London.
Cronan asked Abu Hamza if he ever said in a television interview that he endorsed bin Laden and that he loved him for his achievements after 1993, adding: “Sheikh bin Laden is not a normal person, he’s an example for all mujahedeen, for his past experience, goals and achievements.”
“Did you say that?” Cronan asked.
“I did,” Abu Hamza testified. “I have to give him credit.
‘‘Did you call Osama bin Laden a good-hearted person?’’ Cronan asked.
‘‘Yes, I said that before I criticized him,’’ Abu Hamza replied. ‘‘Everyone has good in him and everyone has a little bad in him.’’
Abu Hamza, 56, who’s pleaded not guilty, is charged with 11 counts, including providing material support to the al-Qaeda network, aiding in the 1998 kidnapping of a group of tourists in Yemen and attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon. He faces as long as life in prison on the most serious charges.
Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the U.S. in 2012, was often combative today during three hours of questioning by Cronan, at one point telling the prosecutor he needed to ‘‘be professional.’’
Wearing a navy blue T-shirt and dark slacks, Abu Hamza frequently gave long, rambling responses. When Cronan insisted the defendant answer his questions, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest turned to Abu Hamza saying, ‘‘the way it works is, he will ask you, and you won’t ask him.’’
Abu Hamza testified that he believes the buildings at the World Trade Center weren’t felled by hijacked airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001. He said explosives were detonated by the U.S. government.
‘‘I commented about the collapse of the buildings. I said those are explosions, they have to be investigated,’’ Abu Hamza said. ‘‘I talk to you as an engineer.’’
Pretext for War
The U.S. used ‘‘it as a pretext for war,’’ he said.
Bin Laden, the founder of al-Qaeda who claimed responsibility for the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the U.S., was killed two years ago by U.S. Navy Seals who raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
Abu Hamza acknowledged telling an American woman her 1998 kidnapping in Yemen was ‘‘justified,’’ confirming today what jurors heard earlier during the trial when a recording of a meeting in 2000 he had with Mary Quin, one of the kidnap victims, was played in court.
Quin testified she was among a group of tourists taken hostage by gunmen who used them as human shields during a firefight. Four of the tourists were killed. The U.S. alleged Abu Hamza communicated with the attackers by a satellite phone that he gave them and also advised them during the assault.
‘‘Did you tell Mary Quin that the kidnapping in Yemen in which four people were killed was ‘Islamically a good thing’?’’ Cronan asked.
‘‘Yes, I said to her there are some verses in the Koran that said it was Islamically justified,’’ Hamza said.
Forrest today gave jurors legal instructions and told them they would return to court tomorrow to hear closing arguments from lawyers.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, Abu Hamza was granted British citizenship in 1986. He was convicted in the U.K. in 2006 of inciting followers to murder Jews and other non-Muslims in sermons he delivered at the mosque from 1997 to 2000. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
He was extradited to the U.S. in 2012, after first being charged by the U.S. in 2004.
The case is U.S. v. Mustafa, 04-cr-00356, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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