Sunday 15 December 2019

Abu Hamza denies backing terrorism

Abu Hamza gives evidence at federal court in New York (AP)
Abu Hamza gives evidence at federal court in New York (AP)

An Egyptian cleric known for incendiary rhetoric at a London mosque has denied supporting terrorism as he gave evidence at his US trial.

Abu Hamza, 56, on trial under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, also told New York federal court that he would give up freedom if the price was his dignity and beliefs.

Hamza countered three weeks of government evidence with answers to rapid-fire questions posed by defence lawyer Joshua Dratel.

"No," Mustafa calmly replied repeatedly as Mr Dratel asked him if he participated in a December 1998 kidnapping in Yemen, tried to organise a jihad training camp in the US of Oregon, aided al Qaida or sent anyone to Afghanistan to engage in jihad training.

An indictment charges him with conspiring to do all those things. If convicted, he could face life in prison, a prospect he said he did not fear.

"If my freedom comes at the expense of my dignity and my beliefs, then I don't want it," Hamza said, speaking quietly.

When Mr Dratel asked him if he gave material support to terrorists or provided the Taliban in Afghanistan any goods or services after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he said: "Never."

"Did you ever aid or abet anyone committing those offenses?" Mr Dratel asked.

Hamza responded: "Never, as far as I know."

His evidence came three weeks into the trial and minutes after the government finished its case.

Mary Quin, the government's last witness, recounted her dramatic escape in December 1998 from Islamic extremists who thought kidnapping 16 Westerners might enable them to force the release of their friends from Yemeni jails.

Ms Quin said her 24 hours as a hostage included a moment when she thought they were all going to be executed and another when a hostage-taker forced her to walk forward by shoving the barrel of an AK-47 into her back until he was shot and fell to the ground.

Still, she said, she had to shove her foot against his head for leverage so she could rip his assault rifle from his hands. Then she ran to safety.

Nearly two years later, she went to Hamza's mosque to interview him for a book she was writing.

Jurors followed a transcript as a recording of the interview was played in court. In it, Ms Quin asked Hamza if he supplied a satellite phone to the kidnappers.

Hamza responded: "Yeah, perhaps."

Ms Quin said Hamza never expressed regret over the four hostages who died in the attack.

Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Hamza told the court he experienced the "wrong side of morality" when he moved to England, becoming a resident in 1982 and a citizen in 1986. He said he worked as a club bouncer before co-managing a strip club for a "very short time".

After getting a civil engineering degree, he said he was a member of the Royal Society of Civil Engineers for five years until he failed to pay his dues.

He said an "English girl" he married encouraged him to embrace Islam after they were exposed to it by Egyptian friends at a restaurant they frequented. He said they both stopped smoking.

"There came a time when I said: 'Enough is enough,'" he recalled. "I took time off from the clubs and I enjoyed it."

PA Media

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