NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A jury has been chosen for the U.S. terror trial of an Egyptian Islamic preacher extradited from Great Britain on charges he conspired to support al Qaeda.
It took just a few hours for eight men and four women along with four alternates to be chosen Monday for the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who is also known by the aliases Abu Hamza and Abu Hamza al-Masri.
Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan said opening statements were to begin Thursday morning.
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.
The trial of Mustafa comes a month after a jury in Manhattan convicted Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and al Qaeda’s spokesman after the 2001 attacks, of charges that will likely result in a life sentence.
Mustafa has pleaded not guilty to charges he conspired to support al Qaeda by trying to set up a terrorist training camp in 1999 in Oregon. He also is accused of helping abduct two American tourists and 14 others in Yemen in 1998. Four hostages died.
Defense attorney Jeremy Schneider has belittled the government’s portrayal of plans to open an al Qaeda training camp on 360 acres in Bly, Ore. ,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 U.S. Attorney Edward Kim said last week that Schneider’s description was false. He said guns found in the homes of participants in the Bly training “tends to disprove — that this was all just a lark in the woods.”
Mustafa became well-known in the 1990s as his Finsbury Park Mosque in London became a training ground for extremist Islamists, including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid.
He had been jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges.
The British agreed to send Mustafa to New York only after the U.S. agreed it would be a civilian, not military, trial and the death penalty was off the table.
The 55-year-old Mustafa has alerted his lawyers and Judge Forrest that he will testify on his own behalf. At a pretrial hearing last week, he told the judge: “I think I am innocent. I need to go through it, have a chance to defend myself.”
The trial is expected to last about a month. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
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