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Saturday 17 March 2018

Abu Hamza jury selection begins

Islamic preacher Abu Hamza will go on trial in New York
Islamic preacher Abu Hamza will go on trial in New York

Jury selection has begun in the federal trial of an Egyptian Islamic preacher extradited from Britain on charges he conspired to support al Qaida, in part by trying to create a training camp in Oregon 15 years ago.

The trial in New York of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, better known as Abu Hamza, comes a month after a jury in Manhattan convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden's son-in-law and al Qaida's spokesman after the 2001 attacks, of charges that are likely to result in a life sentence.

Mustafa, 55, has alerted his lawyers and US District Judge Katherine Forrest that he will give evidence on his own behalf. At a pre-trial hearing last week, he told the judge: "I think I am innocent. I need to go through it, have a chance to defend myself."

Judge Forrest had Mustafa stand in court on Monday as she told prospective jurors that both of his arms have been amputated and asked them if anything about his physical appearance or his disability would affect their ability to be fair. Mustafa has one eye and claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Prosecutors say he conspired to support al Qaida by trying in 1999 to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon; by arranging for others to attend an al Qaida training camp in Afghanistan; and by ensuring there was satellite phone service for hostage-takers in Yemen in 1998 who abducted two American tourists and 14 others.

Three Britons and an Australian were killed as the Yemeni military attempted to rescue the hostages. Two women, an American and a Briton, were wounded. Officials said the hostages were seized as demands were made to release two Islamic jihad leaders.

Defence lawyer Jeremy Schneider has belittled the government's portrayal of plans to open an al Qaida training camp on 360 acres in Bly, saying the effort in late 1999 and early 2000 resembled a retreat, with "just a few people shooting at targets, riding horseback, having fun at the farm".

Assistant US Attorney Edward Kim said last week that Mr Schneider's description was false. He said guns found in the homes of participants in the Bly training camp "tends to disprove ... that this was all just a lark in the woods".

White-haired Mustafa turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims, Mustafa was brought to the United States for trial in autumn 2012.

Opening statements are scheduled for Thursday.

Press Association

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