New York (AFP) – A New York jury began deliberating Thursday over its verdict on the terror and kidnapping charges brought against Islamist preacher Abu Hamza by the United States.
The 56-year-old, who was extradited from Britain in October, faces up to life in prison if convicted on the 11 counts against him.
Blind in one eye and with both hands amputated, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, his real name, gained notoriety as the imam of the Finsbury mosque in London, the center of an Islamist network during the 1990s that became known as “Londonistan.”
He is accused of involvement in the 1998 abduction of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed in a military rescue operation.
He is also accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp in the United States in 1999, and of promoting “violent jihad” on a global scale.
He has pleaded innocent to all the charges, arguing in three days of calm and courteous testimony that he had learned of the Yemen kidnappings only after the fact.
He said he had merely acted as a “mouthpiece” for the kidnappers, although admitting that he sent them a sophisticated satellite phone with fax and email capabilities through his son-in-law.
Phone records reflect three calls to the imam starting the day of the kidnapping. There were two calls before the kidnapping — which Abu Hamza did not answer — and one after — during which they asked him to add credit to the phone account.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley contended in closing arguments Wednesday that the evidence against Abu Hamza was “simply overwhelming.”
“He jumped on opportunities around the globe to support jihad. In Yemen, in Afghanistan, in the US,” he said of Abu Hamza.
McGinley described the Briton as “the boss, the leader” who persuaded his followers to join the holy war against the infidels.
“This man is a skillful speaker. He wants to run from his choices,” he cautioned the jury.
“The real Abu Hamza is not the man you see now in 2014,” McGinley said. “The real Abu Hamza is guilty. Don’t let the passage of time dismiss what he did.”
Defense lawyer Jeremy Schneider dismissed what he said was the “quantity of irrelevant evidence,” and said Abu Hamza was being tried for “his words in general, not his deeds.”
Abu Hamza’s pending verdict comes just weeks after the trial of the son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith, who was found guilty in the same lower Manhattan court of plotting to kill Americans and providing material support for terrorism.
©afp.com / Odd Andersen