NEW YORK – An extremist Egyptian-born preacher entered a U.S. courtroom Saturday for the first time to face multiple terrorism charges, complaining that his prosthetic hooks, medication and special shoes were taken away from him. He was one of five terror defendants rounded up in Britain and extradited overnight to the U.S.
Abu Hamza al-Masri was surrounded by several marshals in a Manhattan courtroom as he faced charges he conspired with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and helped abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
The 54-year-old, white-haired Al-Masri exposed both of his arms through his short-sleeved prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, asked that al-Masri, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, have his prosthetics immediately returned “so he can use his arms.”
In the 1990s, al-Masri turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque into a training ground for extremist Islamists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
Al-Masri – jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges – was flown overnight to New York from London along with four others accused of U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and with helping terror operations in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The men, who could all face life in prison, have been battling extradition for between eight to 14 years.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the extraditions “a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.”
“As is charged, these are men who were at the nerve centers of al-Qaida’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.”
In New York’s federal court, Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, entered pleas of not guilty to charges that they participated in the bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. They were indicted in a case that also charged Osama bin Laden.
In New Haven, Conn., Syed Talha Ahsan, 33, and Babar Ahmad, 38, pleaded not guilty to charges that they provided terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya with cash, recruits and equipment.
Al-Masri, a one-time nightclub bouncer, entered no plea, saying only “I do” when he was asked by U.S. Magistrate Judge Frank Maas whether he swears that his financial affidavit used to determine if he qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer was correct.
Al-Masri has one eye and claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. His lawyers in England said he suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments.
“I don’t think he slept at all” on the overnight flight and hadn’t eaten since arriving in New York at 2:40 a.m., Shroff said outside court. Still, she added, “He seemed very much like a gentleman.”