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Handless cleric's own words to be used against him in U.S. trial

Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Islamist cleric facing U.S. terrorism charges, stands with his legal team in Manhattan federal court in New
Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Islamist cleric facing U.S. terrorism charges, stands with his legal team in Manhattan federal court in New

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors can use radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri's own inflammatory words against him during his trial in New York on terrorism-related charges, including praise for Osama bin Laden and for the September 11, 2001, attacks, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

The decision came two days before opening statements are scheduled to take place in Manhattan federal court.

Lawyers for Abu Hamza had argued that video and audio recordings of Abu Hamza justifying violence against non-Muslims would unfairly taint the jurors' emotions, making it impossible for him to have a fair verdict.

But U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said most of the tapes can be played for the jury to show Abu Hamza's state of mind and his willingness to provide aid to militant organizations.

Among the statements that Forrest said she would permit is one in which he expressed support for the al Qaeda bombing of the Navy destroyer U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in 2000, which killed 17 U.S. sailors, and the September 11 attacks, which resulted in the death of nearly 3,000 people in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.

"Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center," Abu Hamza told a British television service, according to court documents.

Joshua Dratel, a lawyer for Abu Hamza, did not immediately respond to an email on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment.

Abu Hamza, an Egyptian-born imam who became known for his fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, faces 11 counts, including charges that he aided militants who kidnapped a group of tourists in Yemen in 1998, and tried to set up a jihadist training camp in Oregon.

He is also accused of raising money to support al Qaeda and Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

The preacher is known for missing one eye and both hands, injuries sustained in Afghanistan in the 1980s; he typically uses a metal prosthetic hook on his right arm.

Defense lawyers had objected to nearly two dozen taped statements made by Abu Hamza, who in court is using his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa. In addition to their prejudicial nature, the lawyers said, many of the recordings were made years before or years after Abu Hamza's alleged crimes.

The September 11 statement, Forrest acknowledged, addressed "very sensitive issues for Americans" but said it shows that Abu Hamza was familiar with and supported al Qaeda's agenda.

"It is difficult to understand how a juror listening to such statements could do so without having his or her emotions stirred," Forrest said.

But, she said, jurors are often confronted with points of view they do not condone and are still expected to determine guilt based on whether the government has proven its case.

Another recording depicts Abu Hamza referring to "dirty Jews, Christians, most of them homosexual persons."

Forrest said she would bar a handful of other tapes, however, including ones in which Abu Hamza appeared to call for violence against Christians and Jews and justified the use of suicide bombs.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Gunna Dickson)

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