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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Accused Amputee Terror Plotter Seeks Trial Delay

MANHATTAN (CN) - An accused al-Qaida operative said Monday that his speedy-trial rights face a hurdle as his jailers delay upgrading the prostheses for his amputated arms.

Prosecutors say Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, once known as Abu Hamza, conspired to kidnap 16 tourists in Yemen, create al-Qaida training camps in Bly, Ore., and aide the terrorist group in Afghanistan.

The radical Islamic cleric, who reportedly lost much of his forearms and one of his eyes fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, is commonly pictured wearing an eye patch and hooked hands. He usually appears in the Southern District of New York with his arm stumps and missing eye unadorned.

Before his extradition last year, Mustafa spent seven years incarcerated in the United Kingdom for soliciting murder and racial incitement for his incendiary sermons at London's Finsbury Park Mosque. The European Court of Human Rights approved his transfer to the United States in April 2012, eight years after his original indictment.

By that time, federal prosecutors had amassed thousands of documents against him, plus an untold number of files stored electronically.

Mustafa's lead attorney Jeremy Schneider convinced U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in October to assign him co-counsel and postpone the projected trial date until this August, giving the defense time to pore over the nearly decade-old case file.

Schneider called the revised start date unworkable Monday because the Manhattan Correctional Center, or MCC, allegedly heightened his client's restrictions and placed new roadblocks toward replacing his prostheses.

At the scheduling hearing, the judge indicated that she would not grant another extension unless later convinced one was absolutely necessary.

"This defendant is entitled to a speedy and public trial consistent with the interests of justice," she said.

Schneider contended that the MCC's "bureaucratic process" posed a "very, very serious problem" because the prison invoked Special Administrative Measures, or SAMs, for Mustafa's confinement.

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons implemented SAMs to restrain violent prisoners and, controversially, allow for unprecedented attorney-client monitoring aimed at preventing the disclosure of classified information.

Mustafa's attorneys claim that the MCC placed their client on this status early this month without explanation.

After the hearing, co-counsel Lindsay Lewis told reporters that the SAMs make it harder to get her client new prostheses with attached penholders and silverware to help him write and eat.

Lewis insisted that her disabled client needs these equipment upgrades because his former U.K. prison provided him with daily medical assistance that the MCC does not offer.

"He makes due as best as he possibly can," Lewis said.

She added that her client cannot use a computer to look at the electronic evidence.

Judge Forrest instructed the defense to submit written proposals for changes to Mustafa's prison restrictions.

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