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U.S. trial begins for one-eyed, handless radical cleric

Source: Reuters - Mon, 14 Apr 2014 14:47 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, April 14 (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, accused of conspiring in a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of four tourists.

Abu Hamza also is accused of trying to set up a jihadist training camp in Bly, Oregon, and of raising money to send militants to train in Afghanistan.

The 55-year-old imam, who is using his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, during the trial, faces life in prison if convicted of the most serious charges against him.

Prior to Monday, more than 200 prospective jurors filled out questionnaires that asked, among other things, whether they felt they could be impartial in a case involving terrorism-related charges.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest struck 45 potential jurors whom both prosecutors and defense lawyers agreed should be dismissed based on their answers, as well as an additional 41 jurors she decided should be excused.

U.S. prosecutors are trying to secure their second high-profile terrorism conviction in a matter of weeks, after a jury found Osama bin Laden's son-in-law Suleiman Abu Ghaith guilty last month.

Unlike in several other terrorism-related trials, including that of Abu Ghaith, the jury will not be anonymous.

Abu Hamza, who has said he is innocent, has indicated he plans to testify in his own defense.

A fiery orator, Abu Hamza was extradited from Britain in 2012 after spending several years in jail on charges of inciting his followers to kill non-believers.

The Egyptian-born preacher delivered speeches and led prayers at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. While there, according to British officials, he had contacts with several high-profile militants, including Briton Richard Reid, who unsuccessfully tried to blow up a Miami-bound airplane with a bomb hidden in his shoe in 2001, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who helped plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that killed nearly 3,000 people.

Abu Hamza is missing one eye and both hands and is known for using a prosthetic metal hook. He has said he suffered the injuries while doing humanitarian work in Afghanistan in the 1980s, though authorities say they occurred while he fought with the mujahideen against the Soviet Union.

The trial in New York, which is expected to last about a month, will be put on hold Tuesday and Wednesday for Passover. Opening statements could come as soon as Thursday. (Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder and James Dalgleish)

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