US & Canada

Abu Hamza: Radical cleric 'hid behind religion'

In this courtroom drawing, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa , centre, is flanked by his defense team, attorney Julie Howe left and Joshua Dratel, right in New York 14 April 2014 Image copyright AP
Image caption Abu Hamza lost his hands and one eye in Afghanistan in the 1980s

A radical Muslim cleric who served seven years in a British prison had "used the cover of religion" to hide his part in a global terror campaign, a prosecutor in New York has said.

Opening statements in the trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri began on Thursday.

Abu Hamza, 55, denies 11 terrorism charges including providing support to al-Qaeda and trying to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon.

He was jailed in Britain for inciting murder and racial hatred.

'Open book'

"Abu Hamza was not just a preacher of religion," Assistant US Attorney Edward Kim said in his opening statement.

"He was a trainer of terrorists and he used the cover of religion so he could hide in plain sight in London."

Abu Hamza, born Mustafa Kamal Mustafa, is charged in federal court with various crimes including hostage taking, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and abetting religious war in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors say that in 1998, Abu Hamza arranged satellite communications for a group of kidnappers in Yemen who carried out a deadly attack in which four hostages were killed, and that in 1999-2000 he and others conspired to establish an al-Qaeda training camp in Bly, Oregon, among other acts.

In his own opening statement, defence lawyer Joshua Dratel rejected the prosecutor's portrayal of the Egyptian-born preacher.

"Mr Mustafa has not been hiding in a cave," he said. "He's an open book. It's not a secret conspiracy."

Mr Dratel told the jury of eight men and four women his client had never harmed Americans and did not participate in any of the acts of which he is accused.

Abu Hamza had hoped to deliver his own opening statement but District Judge Katherine Forrest, who is trying the case, rejected the request, ruling it would amount to "hybrid representation" and could give jurors the impression he was actually giving evidence.

Legal battle

But Abu Hamza is expected to testify in his own defence during the trial. Mr Dratel cautioned jurors that they might not agree with some of his opinions.

"These are views, not acts." Mr Dratel said. "This is expression, not crimes. He needed to be outrageous to an extent to reach the entire spectrum of his community and keep them in the conversation."

As part of their case, prosecutors plan to play jurors a series of recordings in which Abu Hamza can be heard praising Osama Bin Laden and castigating Jews, Christians and homosexuals.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Abu Hamza was extradited to the US after an eight-year legal battle

His lawyers have argued the recordings are irrelevant to the charges against him, but Judge Forrest has ruled prosecutors could use them.

Abu Hamza, who lost his hands and one eye in Afghanistan in the 1980s, rose to notoriety in the UK for preaching violent messages at the Finsbury Park mosque in London after 9/11.

In fighting against the extradition, his lawyers claimed some of the evidence that could be used against him in the US was obtained using torture.

They also claimed he could face inhumane treatment, but courts eventually found that his human rights would not be violated.

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