Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Amputee Preacher Faces N.Y. Jury, a Decade After Charges

MANHATTAN (CN) - The Islamic preacher jailed in London for hate-speech crimes also "walked the walk" of religious-inspired violence, a federal prosecutor said today, kicking off a terrorism trial a decade in the making.

The Egypt-born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who is better known in the press as Abu Hamza al-Masri, is accused of conspiring to kidnap 16 tourists in Yemen, create an al-Qaida training camps in Bly, Ore., and aide the terrorist group in Afghanistan.

Saturday will mark the 10-year anniversary of Mustafa's April 19, 2004, federal indictment for these crimes in Manhattan, but his prosecution here hit a holding pattern as British authorities convicted him under hate-speech laws that same year for his incendiary sermons at London's Finsbury Park mosque.

"It was here that he recruited men," Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim said. "It was here that he indoctrinated men."

Since his speeches are not punishable under expansive free-speech laws in the United States, prosecutors have instead accused him of terrorist conspiracies. The United States won his extradition two years ago after promising the European Court of Human Rights that it would not pursue the death penalty, and that it would provide medical care for Mustafa's disabilities in prison.

Having reportedly lost much of his forearms and one of his eyes fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, Mustafa is commonly pictured wearing an eye patch and hooked hands. Court security measures do not permit him to wear those prostheses, however, and he appeared today in a light blue shirt rather than his customary prison clothes.

Mustafa intends to testify at trial about how he got those injuries, his lawyer said.

The long-anticipated hearing drew an audience that filled the federal courtroom and a standing-room-only overflow area where the arguments were being transmitted via closed-circuit TV.

Prosecutors have presented Mustafa as a propagandist and plotter of terrorist violence, while the defense compared him to late Nelson Mandela, who was also bore that label in resisting South Africa's apartheid regime.

U.S. Attorney Kim started his account of the globe-trotting case with the section of Mustafa's indictment closest to home for New York jurors: an allegation that Mustafa tried to set up an al-Qaida training camp within U.S. borders.

"The purpose of the mission was simple: to establish a camp, a training camp for terrorists," Kim said.

Although Mustafa never stepped foot in the camp, the men he allegedly sent there shot guns, learned how to build silencers and took lessons on how to slit a person's throat, the prosecutor said.

Mustafa allegedly provided the hostage-takers in Yemen with the satellite phone capable of reaching the rest of the world from the desert, and sent a fighter to Afghanistan where U.S. soldiers eventually picked him up.

Mary Quinn, who escaped her captors in the Yemeni desert and confronted Mustafa in a recorded conversation at his London mosque, plans to tell her tale in court, Kim said.

The prosecutor also promised testimony by the U.S. soldier who picked up Feroz Abbasi, the man Mustafa allegedly sent to Afghanistan.

Defense attorney Joshua Dratel used his opening to rebut such testimony by stating that his client sought to defuse - rather than enable - the hostage crisis.

He added that the government left out crucial context about Abassi: that he was never charged with a crime or kept as a witness for one before being returned to the United Kingdom.

U.S District Judge Katherine Forrest overruled the prosecutor's objection to that statement.

Left unsaid was that Abbasi spent two years uncharged at the controversial U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay.

Throughout his opening argument, Dratel emphasized that the crimes of which his client stands accused occurred well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"Context is critical in this case," Dratel said, outlining how his client viewed events from the late 1990s.

Speaking of al-Qaida's fight that decade against Afghanistan's invaders, Dratel said: "That was a jihad supported, financed and sustained by the United States against the Soviet Union."

This conflict left Aghanistan controlled by war lords and in the thrall of the drug trade, Dratel said, adding that the same Taliban that ultimately became a thorn in the side of the U.S. served at the time as a stabilizing presence to the area.

"This is not a case about hindsight," he said.

Dratel tried to cast his client as his "own man" with "controversial opinions."

"He's not a follower of Osama bin Laden," Dratel said client. "He's not a follower of anyone except the Koran."

"For years, Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist," he commented at another point, adding that George Washington had been called a "rebel."

The implicit comparisons were all the more jarring given Mustafa's inflammatory views, which Judge Forrest recently deemed permissible for jurors to hear at trial.

"Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center," Mustafa said in one interview broadcast on British television. "Anybody who tell [sic] you he was not happy, they are hypocrites, for the Muslim Nation."

Mustafa also said: "Sometimes you need to lie to the kaffir," using a disparaging word for non-Muslims that regularly surfaces during his talks. He also approved of selling "kaffir" as "booty" and deemed killing them "OK."

Defense attorneys unsuccessfully tried to suppress such statements before trial, and also failed in a bid to stop a convicted terrorist from testifying against their client from London via a video link.

Saajid Badat, a convicted co-conspirator in the shoe-bombing plot on U.S. airlines, refused to step foot in New York for fear of arrest under an active indictment against him in Massachusetts.

Witness testimony began with a Bly, Ore., resident testifying about the camps there, and is expected to continue for more than a month.

Categories / Uncategorized

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.