Fugitive's Fear of U.S. Entry May Alter Preacher's Terrorism Trial
MANHATTAN (CN) - Prosecutors might lose "extremely important" testimony against a hook-handed preacher accused of supporting al-Qaida if a would-be shoe bomber refuses to leave the U.K. and testify live in New York, a federal judge said Friday.
Convicted terrorist Saajid Badat helps U.S. law enforcement with any terrorism cases they need under a cooperation deal with U.K. authorities.
A London court sentenced Badat in 2005 to 13 years in prison over a shoe-bombing conspiracy, but the cooperation agreement got him out in 2008.
Since there is an active indictment against Badat for the same shoe-bombing crime in the District of Massachusetts, however, the terrorist has refused to step foot on U.S. soil because he says he fears getting arrested again.
He has fulfilled the agreement in the past by testifying remotely from London.
Last month, for example, Badat appeared via closed-circuit television in Manhattan to tell a federal jury about his complicity with "Shoe Bomber" Richard Reid during the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith.
"We were supposed to bring down flights," the U.K.-based Badat testified in video testimony that helped convict Abu Ghaith as an al-Qaida propagandist.
Now, a different set of U.S. prosecutors want to call Badat in Manhattan to help convict Mustafa Kamel Mustafa aka Abu Hamza al-Masri on charges that he conspired to kidnap 16 tourists in Yemen, to create an al-Qaida training camps in Bly, Ore., and to aide the terrorist group in Afghanistan.
Speaking to Badat and his case agent with London's Metropolitan Police via closed-circuit TV on Friday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said remote access may no longer be sufficient when the Mustafa case kicks off in her court later this month.
"I will tell you this is an extremely important case for the United State government," Forrest said. "It is also an extremely important case to Mr. Mustafa."
Badat is expected to link Mustafa to certain plots through Feroz Abassi, a fellow Brit and former Guantanamo detainee released in 2005.
Forrest indicated that Badat's reluctance to appear in her federal courtroom could compromise his earlier promises to law enforcement.
"Is it your understanding that your agreement with the U.K. authorities obligates you to testify in this case against Mr. Mustafa?" she asked.
"Yes," he replied.
Badat acknowledged under further questioning that he never set any conditions upon that contract and that he once said that he was unconcerned about the risks of cooperating with U.S. law enforcement.
Forrest emphasized: "Now, I cannot provide you with any assurance one way or another of what would happen if you were to come to the United States."
In a hearing earlier this week, she questioned federal prosecutors about the possibility of offering Badat safe passage to secure his testimony. They did not indicate whether this would be possible.
When Forrest pressed Badat on testifying in New York, Badat replied, "I would need to seek legal advice."
She allowed Badat to confer with his attorney until Thursday, at which point he must send a letter indicating his plans. Jury selection for Mustafa is expected to begin the following Monday, and trial will start later in the week.