Federal prosecutor pushes terror defendant Abu Hamza in NYC; he pushes back

British Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London in British Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London in 2004. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bruno Vincent

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A prosecutor peppered radical British Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri with questions on his flame-throwing rhetoric and praise of Osama bin Laden as the cleric blamed unfair editing and language barriers during a heated cross-examination Tuesday at his trial in federal court in Manhattan.

The former fiery preacher at London's Finsbury Park mosque, who had told jurors he was a peacemaker opposed to killing innocents, was confronted with sermons in which he compared non-Muslims to pigs and cows and said it was OK to behead or enslave them.

"I never thought you were going to try me for my tapes again," said an exasperated Abu Hamza, who was convicted of soliciting murder in England for some of the speeches. "You choose a few tapes from 20 years of preaching. You're also cutting and pasting."

"I'm not that eloquent in English," the imam, who moved from Egypt to Britain in 1979, said of another sermon. " . . . There are a lot of missing words, a lot of missing concepts, a lot of things misunderstood. I'm just saying my main language is Arabic."

Abu Hamza, 56, an ex-bouncer who rode his incendiary preaching to notoriety in 1990s London, is accused of assisting a deadly tourist kidnapping in Yemen, planning a jihad training camp in Oregon and sending men to aid al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In three days of testimony, the one-eyed, handless cleric lectured jurors on Muslim oppression and described himself as a committed advocate for Islamist causes, but insisted he had never overstepped the law or plotted violence.

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But on cross-examination, prosecutor John Cronan focused on his rhetoric and sermons as evidence of violent intent -- including statements that he "loved" bin Laden and that Sept. 11 made Muslims "happy."

Abu Hamza, also known as Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, said his comments on Sept. 11 reflected the "emotional" reaction of Muslims opposed to U.S. foreign policy, and that while criticizing some bin Laden actions he also deserved praise for the "good in him."

"He is not a small figure, he is a big figure," Abu Hamza said."You go against him you clash with many Muslims. The reality is you've got to give him respect," he said.

Many of the exchanges became testy, as Abu Hamza tried to turn the tables on Cronan. "This question has about seven things contradicting each other," he responded at one point. "Which one? Try to concentrate. Ask one."

"Yes" and "no" answers were less frequent than explanations and excuses.He laughed off bomb-making instructions found in his jail cell in Britain several years ago, for example, as useless for a handless man.

Jihadist materials found on his home computer, he said, might have been downloaded by his children. And he might have misspoken in an interview with a survivor of the Yemen kidnapping, he said, because of a diabetic condition.

After Abu Hamza's testimony, both sides rested. Summations are scheduled Wednesday.

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