"Did you ever give material support for terrorism?" his defense
lawyer, Joshua Dratel, asked him at the start of his testimony in
"Never," the preacher replied in a deep baritone.
Abu Hamza is accused of providing advice and a satellite phone to
Yemeni militants who took a group of Western tourists hostage in
He is also charged with dispatching two men to Oregon to establish a
jihadist training camp and sending money and followers to
Afghanistan to help al Qaeda and the Taliban.
The one-eyed, handless cleric became known for inflammatory sermons
delivered at the Finsbury Park mosque in London; he was jailed in
the United Kingdom for several years for inciting violence.
On Wednesday, Abu Hamza described his upbringing in Alexandria,
Egypt, where he was born into a non-observant Muslim family.
He moved to London, he said, to "pursue my dreams."
"I wanted to see the world," he said. "I always looked forward to
the Western life, American-style."
While pursuing a career in civil engineering, Abu Hamza worked
several jobs, including as a strip club bouncer.
He began studying Islam at the urging of his then-wife, a British
woman, who thought it would let the spend more time together.
Reading the Koran, he said, made him realize he was living "on the
wrong side of morality."
At one point, after Abu Hamza explained the circumstances under
which Muslims are permitted to lie, Dratel asked whether he was
testifying truthfully. Abu Hamza replied that he took his witness
"I know prison," Abu Hamza said. "If my freedom comes at the expense
of my dignity and belief, I don't want it."
[to top of second column]
He is expected to remain on the stand for several more days.
The testimony began shortly after prosecutors finished their case.
The final government witness was Mary Quin, one of the tourists
taken hostage in Yemen.
Quin, a dual American-New Zealand citizen, described her daring
escape during a desert gun battle between the kidnappers and the
Yemeni military. When her captor was shot, she fought him for
control of his AK-47, eventually stepping on his head to wrest away
Four captives died during the rescue.
Two years later, she confronted Abu Hamza for a book she wrote about
her ordeal. The jurors heard excerpts from their conversation, which
Quin recorded with Abu Hamza's permission.
"Islamically, it is a good thing to do," he said of the kidnapping.
He acknowledged that he had spoken with Abu Hassan, the militants'
leader, on the day of the kidnapping. But he would not confirm that
he had provided them a satellite phone, saying only, "Yeah,
perhaps," when Quin asked him.
Abu Hamza's lawyers have argued that he intended to act as a
mediator to help negotiate the hostages' release.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Steve
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