By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) – In a video of radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri shown to jurors at his trial on Monday, he did not hesitate when a television interviewer asked him about the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.
“Everyone was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center,” Abu Hamza said in the undated film played in a U.S. court where the former imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London faces terrorism-related charges.
Prosecutors have accused the one-eyed, handless Abu Hamza of trying to set up a jihadist training camp in Oregon, giving assistance to militants who took 16 Western tourists hostage in Yemen in 1998, a kidnapping that ended with the deaths of three Britons and an Australian, and raising money and supplies for al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
If convicted of the most serious charges, the Egyptian-born Abu Hamza would face life in prison. He previously served several years in prison in Britain for inciting his followers to kill non-believers.
Extradited from Britain in 2012 under the condition that he would be tried in civilian court and not face the death penalty,
Abu Hamza is expected to testify in his own defense in Manhattan federal court. The trial began last week and is expected to last about a month.
Defense lawyers have argued that Abu Hamza, known for his fiery sermons in London, is responsible only for using inflammatory words, not for any overt criminal acts.
Prosecutors intend to use his rhetoric against him via video and audio recordings that show him denouncing non-Muslims and preaching Islamic fundamentalism and encouraging followers to become militants.
Lawyers for Abu Hamza, who is using his birth name of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa during the trial, objected to the recordings as unduly prejudicial. But U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled last week that most of the tapes can be shown to the jury as evidence of his state of mind.
Prosecutors also played several other tapes, some in Arabic, for the jurors, who were given English transcripts. Some of the tapes were seized from the Finsbury Park mosque or from Abu Hamza’s residence.
Abu Hamza lost both hands and one eye in Afghanistan in the 1980s and was known in London for wearing a prosthetic metal hook on his right arm. In court, he has taken notes with a pen wedged in his hook.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Grant McCool)