Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Hamza cries during US terror trial

Radical Islamic preacher Abu Hamza is on trial in New York

An Egyptian cleric known for fiery oratory at a London mosque has quietly cried while describing the killing of Muslims in Bosnia in the 1990s at his US terrorism trial

But Abu Hamza, on trial under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, laughed when he told a jury in Manhattan, New York, he had heard rumours that hands he lost in an accident with explosives were chopped off as punishment for stealing.

The second day of giving evidence for Hamza was emotional for him as he talked about the killing of Muslims, Osama bin Laden and how he lost one eye and both hands in 1993.

He cried while discussing the 1995 massacre of thousands of Muslim men and boys in Bosnia. He cried again later as he described talking to a woman whose son was killed in Bosnia.

Prosecutors questioned whether world events affecting Muslims in the 1990s belonged in a trial in which Hamza is charged with conspiring to aid terrorists who took 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 and conspiring to aid al Qaida by starting an training camp in the US state of Oregon two years later.

Describing Hamza as a "political figure", Judge Katherine Forrest said prosecutors must let him describe his opinions about events that arose during the US government's three-week presentation of evidence.

"Whether you like his views or don't like his views, they're his views and you've got to let him put them in context," she said. "You made it relevant. Nobody made it relevant but you."

She accused one prosecutor of looking at her "like I'm crazy" as she spoke. She noted Hamza could spend life in prison if convicted.

Hamza's lawyer, Joshua Dratel, questioned him about a wide range of subjects, including Osama bin Laden. Hamza said bin Laden was "a very charismatic man. People love him, including myself."

But he was critical at times of al Qaida. He described how in 1987 he met Abdullah Azzam, a spiritual mentor of bin Laden who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and was killed in a car bombing in 1989.

Hamza said: "He was seeing the bigger picture, certainly bigger than al Qaida today."

He explained the loss of his hands, saying a liquid explosive went off as he was handling it in August 1993 when he worked as a civil engineer during testing being carried out by the Pakistani military in Lahore, where Pakistani security officers lived.

He said he spent a month in a hospital and was unjustly suspected of having ignited the explosive. He lost an eye in the same explosion.

Hamza said the Pakistani Army did not charge him but warned not to "embarrass us about what happened".

He chuckled as he said he later heard rumours he went to Saudi Arabia, tried to steal something "and they cut off my hands".

Hamza drew laughs again when he described changing the name on his passport when he travelled to Bosnia in the mid-1990s.

"You pay £25 and say 'I want to be John Travolta, and you are John Travolta.'" he said.

When the judge asked if he became John Travolta, he answered: "No ma'am," causing more laughs.

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