Imam Claims Srebrenica Made Him Militant
MANHATTAN (CN) - During his second day of testimony, the double-amputee imam and accused terrorist contested reports of how he lost his hands and wept as he said that his witnessing of the Srebrenica massacre shaped his militant views.
"It was horrific scenes - things I never thought I'd see before in my life," Mustafa Kamel Mustafa said of the slaughter of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims in July 1995. "Young ladies, three or four sometimes, hanging from the trees."
His voice cracked as he recounted a conversation he said he'd had with a woman in her mid-30s. "She saw a young Bosnian brother around 12 years old," he said. "He was wearing camouflage, and he had a Kalashnikov in his hand, and I saw her hugging him."
Tears in his eyes, Mustafa said she told him: "I wish I had trained my son."
Mustafa, who is accused of exporting violent extremism worldwide, told the jury that he has come to agree with the woman's view of giving teenagers military training.
"The world is like a jungle," he said. "You have to be strong."
In the past decade, British and New York tabloids have come to know Mustafa by his nom de guerre Abu Hamza al-Masri in articles depicting the reputed "hook-handed hate-cleric" with pictures of him waving his sharp metal prosthesis in front of London's Finsbury Park mosque. Newspapers around the world reported that he got his injuries by fighting the former Soviet army with the Afghan mujahideen.
Although prison restrictions long ago forced him to retire the hook, the photographs still burnish his reputation as a militant. He was incarcerated for hate-speech crimes in London in 2004, before being extradited to the United States to face terrorism changes two years ago.
Prosecutors accuse him of giving kidnappers the satellite phone used in the 1998 abduction of 16 British and U.S. tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed. Mustafa also allegedly recruited two acolytes to establish a jihadi training camp in Bly, Ore., and another to go to Afghanistan to train with al-Qaida.
The Oregon camp fizzled out in a few months in late 1999, and the man he allegedly sent to Afghanistan, Feroz Abbasi, was released from a U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay without charges in 2005.
In denying the allegations against him, Mustafa brushed off "media exaggerations" and said he wanted to correct the record surrounding his amputations.
"Unfortunately, the reputation was much, much bigger than the reality," he said.
Mustafa said he became disabled while working as an engineer in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1993, when a colleague carelessly tested explosives. He said he tried to throw away a bottle with a detonator when it ignited in his hands.
"That is exactly how it happened," he said. "I am under oath."
Released from a Lahore military hospital after about month, the Egypt-born Mustafa said he went back to London, to pursue a "Western life." He said his doctors back home had been impressed with the treatment he received in Pakistan, and he spoke of the rumors that followed.
"Some people said I went to Saudi Arabia, got caught stealing, and they chopped my hands," he said. "So many stories. The gossip never ends."
A year later, he said, he traveled to Bosnia to bring food there, then returned before the signing of the Dayton Agreement that ended hostilities in 1995.
He said he'd changed his passport because landing in Sarajevo would have been a "death sentence" for an Arab, and he described the mass graves that the Serbian Army dug when they killed Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica.
His reflections on these trips made him cry twice during his testimony, hours apart.
"As happened in Kosovo and Bosnia, we can't trust the West for protection," Mustafa said in a video displayed to jurors. "We're going to have to do it ourselves."
Earlier at trial, prosecutors repeatedly played a video of Mustafa urging congregants to take up military training to fight in Chechnya. The footage showed Muslim men marching in military camouflage and driving tanks that he described as "booty" taken from the Russian Army.
Mustafa's attorney Joshua Dratel replayed the same footage and asked his client to explain his view of the centuries-old conflict. Mustafa said the regional disputes had little interest for al-Qaida's leadership, which viewed them as a "distraction."
Prosecutors repeatedly objected to the Mustafa's political, theological and philosophical commentary, which they called irrelevant to the charges against him.
Overruling them, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest told prosecutors that they "opened the door at [their] peril" to the testimony by highlighting Mustafa's incendiary sermons praising Osama bin Laden, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and the kidnapping of non-Muslims.
Mustafa's attorneys lost their battle to bar these speeches as irrelevant, and they must be allowed to respond to them, Forrest said.
"It is relevant," she chided prosecutors after jurors left the room. "You made it relevant. Nobody made it relevant but you."
As testimony turned to the Sept. 11 attacks, Mustafa spoke of his conspiracy theories of "explosives" in the World Trade Center, his opposition to the Iraq war, and what he described as strategy to "compete in the language of radicalism," to "mitigate, delay and de-escalate."
Mustafa noted that the reputation for radical Islamists in England's capital earned it the name "Londonistan."
"You only need to see two or three people mad to see bombs," he said. "That's the reality."
By the time his second day of testimony concluded, Mustafa claimed to be philosophically opposed to the plots charged in his indictment, but he had not answered the evidence tying him to them. He is expected to comment more directly upon the case when trial resumes Monday.