NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – The trial of an Egyptian imam accused of supporting terrorism around the world resumed Friday.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 55, is an Egyptian imam who led a London mosque more than a dozen years ago was portrayed in Thursday’s opening statements at his terrorism trial as an enthusiastic supporter of al Qaeda by a prosecutor and as a reasonable man who helped authorities in England keep people calm by his defense attorney.
Mustafa is also known by the aliases Abu Hamza and Abu Hamza al-Masri.
An American convert to Islam who traveled to London’s Finsbury Park Mosque to meet the defendant testified Friday morning that when Mustafa spoke, the place was packed with a fairly young crowd, WCBS 880’s Irene Cornell reported.
Mustafa would urge the young Muslims to fight Jihad in Afghanistan, the witness testified.
The witness said he took the advice to heart and went to the Bly, Ore. ranch that Mustafa is accused of setting up as a terror training camp for al Qaeda, Cornell reported.
The witness said his weapons instructor, who had been sent by Mustafa from London, told him “I’m not here to play around, I’m here to destroy.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim said Thursday Mustafa tried to rally hundreds of followers at a large London mosque to engage in his “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.”
But defense attorney Joshua Dratel told jurors his client never harmed Americans and didn’t participate in any acts charged in the case.
“Please keep your eyes on the evidence and not the rhetoric,” Dratel said.
He promised Mustafa would testify but cautioned jurors they might not agree with some of his views.
“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.
He added: ‘He is who he is. You’re not here to judge his philosophy or his ideology. You’re here to judge the evidence.”
Kim told jurors that among the witnesses they will hear during a trial expected to last about a month is 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.
The 55-year-old cleric was extradited in 2012 from England, where he turned 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.
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, bin Laden’s son-in-law and al Qaeda’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks, of charges that will likely result in a life sentence.
Mustafa’s trial is expected to last about a month. If convicted, he could face life in prison.
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