Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Islamic cleric accused of aiding Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a U.S. courtroom after eight years of fighting extradition from the U.K.
Abu Hamza, 54, who was born in Egypt and was granted British citizenship in 1986, is charged in an 11-count indictment filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan. He is accused of supporting the Taliban with money and troops and aiding a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that left four hostages dead.
He and two al-Qaida suspects facing terrorism charges in a separate case tied to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa arrived in New York from the U.K. on Oct. 6 at about 2:45 a.m., prosecutors said. All three face life in prison if convicted of the charges.
“After years of protracted legal battles, the extradition of these three alleged terrorists to the U.S. is a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said in an Oct. 6 statement.
The U.S. has sought to prosecute Abu Hamza, who it identifies as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, since May 27, 2004, when he was arrested in London by the Metropolitan Police at the request of federal prosecutors in New York.
The U.S. alleges that Abu Hamza also attempted in 1999 to start a terrorist training camp for al-Qaida, located in Bly, Ore., and dispatched two other men to travel there from London to assist.
Khalid al-Fawwaz, 50, a Saudi national, and Adel Abdel Bary, 52, of Egypt, are charged with participating with bin Laden in a global plot to kill U.S. nationals. Bary is also charged with murder and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction tied to the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. They entered not guilty pleas through their lawyers at their arraignment on Oct. 6 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas in Manhattan. At their appearance today in court in Manhattan, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan set an Oct. 7, 2013 trial date and appointed attorneys for the two men.
Abu Hamza once preached at the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London that had been attended by Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, who pleaded guilty to being part of the Sept. 11, 2001, plot to fly planes into New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Richard Reid, who was convicted of a foiled plot to detonate a shoe bomb aboard a passenger jet in 2001, also worshipped at the mosque.
Abu Hamza was convicted in 2006 in the U.K. for inciting followers to murder non-Muslims in sermons he gave from 1997 to 2000. He was sentenced in 2006 to seven years in prison.
On Oct. 6, Maas ordered Abu Hamza held without bail after Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said the government would seek his detention.
Abu Hamza is blind in one eye and missing both of his hands. During the hearing, Sabrina Shroff, a federal defender appointed to represent him for the day, asked that he receive medical attention.
Shroff said her client’s two prosthetics had been removed from him when he was taken into U.S. custody.
“To the extent that Mr. Mustafa does not receive his prosthetics immediately, he will need someone to take care of his daily needs, otherwise he will not be able to function in a civilized manner,” Shroff said.
Shroff also asked that he receive some kind of recording device because he is unable to write and special shoes with non-skid soles to help him keep his balance.
Maas directed that Abu Hamza receive medical attention and said defense lawyers would have to raise the issues with U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who is presiding over his case.
During the Oct. 6 proceeding, Andrew Patel, a lawyer for Bary, and Jerrod Thompson-Hicks, a lawyer for al-Fawwaz, asked Maas to direct that both men receive medical attention. Bary has asthma while al-Fawwaz has high blood pressure and a stomach issue, their lawyers said.
The Aug. 7, 1998, embassy bombings killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injured more than 4,500.
Al-Fawwaz, who was arrested in September 1998 in London, and Bary, who was arrested in July 1999 in London, have fought extradition to the U.S. to face charges tied to the embassy attacks, which killed 224 people, including 12 U.S. citizens, and injured more than 4,500.
Federal prosecutors in New York allege that al-Fawwaz, who was based in London, was bin Laden’s British contact and worked with him to establish a media information office to publicize the group. He obtained a satellite phone for bin Laden, which he and other al-Qaida leadership used before the 1998 attacks, U.S. prosecutors have said.
He is charged with four separate conspiracies, including the plot to kill U.S. nationals. All four charges carry life prison terms.
The U.S. alleges that Bary obtained fake travel documents for co-conspirators and headed the London cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group that was tied to bin Laden and provided logistical assistance to it. After a search, authorities found Bary’s fingerprints on a statement faxed to news organizations taking responsibility for the embassy attacks and for a declaration of war issued by bin Laden in February 1998. The papers were found during a police search in an office in London that Bary rented, the U.S. has said.
Bary is charged with 284 counts, including conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and the murders of the 224 people killed in both bombings. The most serious charges of conspiracy and murder carry life prison terms.
Two other men, Babar Ahmad, 38, and Syed Ahsan, 33, who were also denied their bids in the U.K. on Oct. 5 to block extradition to the U.S., made initial court appearances in federal court in New Haven, Connecticut, on Oct. 6 and pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy and providing material support to terrorists.
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