US tells jury Egyptian imam pursued global terror

April 17, 2014 - 6:33 PM
NYC Terror

FILE - In this March 28, 2003 file photo, radical Muslim cleric Mustafa Kamel Mustafa prays in a street outside his Mosque in north London. Mustafa faces charges he conspired to support al-Qaida by trying in 1999 to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., and by helping abduct two American tourists and 14 others in Yemen in 1998. Jury selection for his terrorism trial begins in New York on Monday, April 14, 2014. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — The imam of a London mosque used his influential position in the late 1990s to train and aid terrorists and used the cover of his religion to hide in plain sight, a prosecutor told jurors in his opening statement Thursday before a defense attorney promised that the defendant will explain himself during the trial.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim described Mustafa Kamel Mustafa in starkly different terms than did defense attorney Joshua Dratel, even referring to him by a different name, his alias Abu Hamza, as he told how Mustafa led a large London mosque with hundreds of followers and engaged in a "global campaign to spread terror."

"Abu Hamza was not just a preacher of religion," Kim said. "He was a trainer of terrorists, and he used the cover of religion so he could hide in plain sight in London."

The prosecutor said Mustafa arranged satellite communications for kidnappers in Yemen in a 1998 attack that killed four people, directed others to set up an al-Qaida training camp in Bly, Ore., in late 1999 and early 2000 and arranged for fighters to attend an Afghanistan al-Qaida training camp.

Dratel told jurors his client never harmed Americans and didn't participate in any acts charged in the case.

"Mr. Mustafa has not been hiding in a cave," he said. "He's an open book. It's not a secret conspiracy."

He promised Mustafa would testify but cautioned jurors they might not agree with some of his opinions.

"He said a lot of harsh things," Dratel said. "These are views, not acts. This is expression, not crimes. He needed to be outrageous to an extent to reach the entire spectrum of his community and keep them in the conversation. He couldn't walk a road that left him without access to extremists on one side of the other."

The lawyer said British intelligence officers repeatedly enlisted Mustafa's help to keep situations under control and non-violent.

Kim told jurors that witnesses they will hear during a trial expected to last about a month include a former hostage who escaped a terrorist attack in Yemen in 1998 and later interviewed Mustafa at his mosque, getting him to acknowledge that he gave satellite phones to the kidnappers and believed the attack was justified.

He said a tape recording of her interview with Mustafa will be played at the trial.

Before opening statements began, Judge Katherine Forrest told lawyers that Mustafa had written her a letter asking if he could deliver his own opening. She rejected the request, saying it might give jurors the impression that a statement meant to be a trial roadmap was evidence.

The 55-year-old cleric was extradited in 2012 from England, where he turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

The only witness the first day was Angelica Morris, who lived on the Bly property with her family.