Mostafa terror trial kicks off opening arguments

Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, shown in this file photo, Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, shown in this file photo, lost both his arms and an eye while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s. (May 27, 2004) Photo Credit: AP

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A federal prosecutor depicted the imam of a London mosque Thursday as a supporter of terror on several continents, but his attorney said the outspoken leader's words have been taken out of context in a post-9/11 world.

Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, 55, urged all able-bodied Muslims "to wage war against non-Muslims. . . . It was global, and it was mandatory," Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Kim told jurors in Manhattan as the terrorism trial began.

But defense attorney Joshua Dratel told the jury of eight men and four women that Mostafa never harmed Americans, or anyone else, and never set foot in America.

During his opening statement, Dratel stood behind Mostafa, placing his hands on the defendant's shoulders, as he depicted the Egyptian-born cleric as a firebrand guided by the Koran, not radical politics.

"Keep your eye on the evidence, not the rhetoric," Dratel said.

Many of Mostafa's statements cited by the government were made before the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and should be seen "in a pre-9/11 context," the attorney said.

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Kim outlined a series of events spanning continents that led to Mostafa's 2004 indictment on conspiracy, murder, hostage-taking and other charges.

The prosecutor said Mostafa, a British citizen, arranged for others to set up a camp in Bly, Ore., in 1999 that provided weapons training and other instructions to would-be terrorists. The cleric also provided support to anti-American militants in Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, and aided a terrorist attack in Yemen in 1998 in which 16 tourists, including two Americans, were taken hostage, Kim said.

"He was a trainer of terrorists and he used the cover of religion so he could hide in plain sight in London," Kim told the jury.

Before jurors entered the courtroom, U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest said she had just received a five-page, single-spaced letter from Mostafa that raised several issues, including his request to make his own opening statement to the jury.

The judge refused to allow such a "hybrid" defense, in which the jury would sometimes hear from the defendant and other times from his lawyers. Mostafa has said he intends to testify in his own defense.

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Forrest did not make Mostafa's letter public, and said it was provided to the defense team but not the prosecution.

The indictment identifies Mostafa as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, and alternately as Abu Hamza, Abu Hamza al-Masri and Mustafa Kamed. He told the judge at his arraignment in 2012 after being extradited from England that he wanted to be identified as Mostafa, his birth name.

Mostafa was jailed in England in 2004 on separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging the murder of non-Muslims.

He was an imam at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London in the 1990s, and money raised in America was funneled through the mosque to finance trips to Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan, according to the indictment.

He has one eye and is missing both hands. He says he lost the hands fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.The government's first witness was Angelica Morris, 38, who was living on a sheep ranch near Bly in the 1990s. She said she had seen groups of 12 to 15 men come to the ranch on several occasions and fire weapons as they moved in military formations.

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On cross-examination by defense attorney Jeremy Schneider, however, Morris said repeatedly that she could not remember some of the statements she had made to FBI agents and a grand jury, and during a trial in a related terrorism case.

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