The government has also accused Abu Hamza al-Masri of conspiring
in a 1998 kidnapping of tourists in Yemen that resulted in the
deaths of three Britons and an Australian, and trying to set up a
training camp in Oregon.
The Egyptian-born preacher, who faces life in prison if convicted,
told a judge at a pretrial hearing on Wednesday that he is innocent.
The trial, which is expected to last about a month, comes less than
three weeks after a jury in the same New York courthouse convicted
Suleiman Abu Ghaith, one of Osama bin Laden's sons-in-law, of
The Abu Ghaith verdict prompted a visit by Attorney General Eric
Holder to New York, where he told reporters the case should help end
the debate over whether militants should be tried as criminal
defendants in civilian court or as combatants in military tribunals.
Abu Hamza, 55, was extradited in 2012 to the United States from
Britain, where he had been jailed for inciting followers to kill
non-believers after operating a mosque that British authorities said
was a breeding ground for Islamist militancy.
Under the terms of British and European court rulings authorizing
his extradition, he must be tried in civilian court.
The imam, who in court is using his birth name, Mustafa Kamel
Mustafa, is missing an eye and both hands, injuries he says took
place while he was carrying out humanitarian work in Afghanistan in
the 1980s. In London, he became known for wearing a metal hook on
Authorities say he sustained the injuries fighting for the
mujahideen against the Soviet Union.
CONTACT WITH "SHOE-BOMBER"
A powerful orator, Abu Hamza had contacts with several well-known
militants at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London mosque,
according to British officials, including Briton Richard Reid, who
unsuccessfully tried to blow up a Miami-bound airliner with
explosives hidden in his shoe in 2001.
Prosecutors have accused Abu Hamza of helping militants in Yemen
take 16 tourists hostage in 1998 by providing them with advice and a
satellite phone. Four of the hostages were killed when the Yemeni
military launched a rescue mission.
In 1999, the government says, Abu Hamza conspired to create a
militant training camp in Bly, Oregon. In 2000 and 2001, prosecutors
say, Abu Hamza used money he raised at his mosque to help militants
travel to Afghanistan while exhorting his followers to donate to
Taliban-backed programs there.
[to top of second column]
As part of their case, prosecutors plan to employ Abu Hamza's own
incendiary words against him. At a hearing this week, they told U.S.
District Judge Katherine Forrest they intend to play for the jury a
series of recordings of Abu Hamza praising bin Laden and castigating
Jews, Christians and homosexuals.
Abu Hamza's defense lawyers argued that the recordings have little
relevance to the charges against him and will inflame the jury.
In a handwritten letter to Forrest in February, Abu Hamza said he
planned to testify in his own defense.
On Wednesday, at the final pretrial hearing, Forrest asked Abu Hamza
whether he understood that he could seek a plea deal if he is guilty
and does not want to proceed to trial.
"I think I'm innocent," he told the judge, saying the trial
represented "a chance to defend myself."
The government also plans to call as a witness former al Qaeda
operative Saajid Badat, who plotted with Reid to blow up airplanes
before Badat backed out at the last minute. Prosecutors say Badat
would testify that Abu Hamza ordered him and another man to travel
to Afghanistan for training.
Badat previously pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with British
authorities, serving six years in prison in Britain. He has
testified at two terrorism-related trials in the United States,
including that of Abu Ghaith.
In both, he appeared via closed-circuit television after refusing to
travel to the United States, where he remains under indictment in
Massachusetts for the shoe bomb plot.
Forrest has not decided whether to allow him to testify on video
after he again declined to come to New York. In a letter to Forrest
on Wednesday, prosecutors said Badat would be arrested if he entered
the United States.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; editing by Noeleen Walder and Mohammad
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