British hate preacher Abu Hamza was a “global exporter” of violence and terrorism intent on waging war against non-Muslims, prosecutors have argued as the Egyptian-born cleric’s trial opened in New York.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 56, better known in Britain as Abu Hamza al-Masri, has pleaded not guilty to 11 kidnapping and terror charges that pre-date the September 11, 2001, attacks.
He faces the rest of his life in a maximum-security US prison if convicted.
He is blind in one eye and lost both arms, blown off above the elbow, in an explosion in Afghanistan years ago.
Prosecutor Edward Kim told the 12-member jury that Abu Hamza had recruited and indoctrinated men whom he dispatched from the Finsbury Park mosque in north London to around the world to wage war.
“He was a global exporter of violence and terrorism,” Kim said. “His goal was clear, simple, vicious … to wage war against non-Muslims.
“He was a trainer of terrorists and he used the cover of religion so he could hide in plain sight in London.”
Dressed in a T-shirt and grey trousers, his hair and beard white, Abu Hamza closely followed Thursday’s proceedings in the packed courtroom.
It is the second high-profile terrorism trial heard in a Manhattan federal court after Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former al-Qaeda spokesman Suleiman Abu Ghaith was convicted on March 26.
The charges relate to the 1998 kidnapping in Yemen of 16 Western tourists, of whom four were killed, and conspiracy to set up an al-Qaeda-style training camp in Oregon in late 1999.
He is also accused of providing material support to bin Laden’s terror network, of wanting to set up a computer lab for the Taliban and sending recruits for terrorism training in Afghanistan.
Kim said Abu Hamza sent two men to the US to open the Oregon camp and liaised with the kidnappers in Yemen, providing them with advice and a satellite phone.
Two of these hostages were scheduled to testify, he said.
But the defence denied that Abu Hamza had dispatched anyone, and never himself travelled at the time to Yemen or the US.
His “harsh” anti-US, anti-Israeli opinions might be unpalatable, but he had the right to express them, Joshua Dratel said.
“These are views, not acts. These are expressions, not crimes,” he told the court, saying Abu Hamza had at times been used by British intelligence to make contact with radicals.
“He is not a member of al-Qaeda, he didn’t belong to the Taliban, he is an independent,” Dratel said.
The trial marks the culmination of a 10-year legal battle.
He was first indicted in the US in 2004 and served eight years in prison in Britain before losing his last appeal in the European Court of Human Rights against extradition.
Abu Hamza was arrested in August 2004 in Britain at Washington’s request, and sentenced in a British court to seven years in jail in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred.
He lost his final appeal to avoid extradition in October 2012 and was flown immediately to the US.