Radical British Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri made his name as a flame-throwing Islamic preacher two decades ago in London, and his past speechmaking took center stage in closing arguments at his terror trial in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday.
Although he claimed to be a peacemaker during four days on the witness stand, prosecutors said, a long record of jihadist rhetoric showed the intent behind his involvement in a deadly kidnapping, a militant training camp and other terror activities.
"He tried to come across to you as a calm man, accepting of others -- the exact opposite of the man you heard on tapes and videos," said prosecutor Ian McGinley. " . . . The real Abu Hamza is not the man you see in 2014. The real Abu Hamza is the one who said 'killing a Kafir [non-Muslim], you can say it's OK even if there's no reason.' "
But the defense said the government was trying to cover up gaps in the evidence tying Abu Hamza to actual plots by falling back on incendiary -- but legal -- rhetoric that praised Osama bin Laden and espoused a militant view of Islam.
"A lot, if not a majority of the government's case, is his words, not his deeds, his words taken out of context, his words without the correct perspective," said defense lawyer Jeremy Schneider. "This case is about what he did, not what he said in the '80s or '90s."
Abu Hamza, 56, a one-eyed double amputee also known as Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, once attracted worshippers such as shoe-bomber Richard Reid and alleged 19th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui to London's Finsbury Park mosque with his fiery rhetoric.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to start Thursday on charges that he aided a 1998 tourist kidnapping in Yemen that ended in the death of four hostages, tried to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon and sent acolytes to help al-Qaida and the Taliban. He faces up to life in prison.
He testified that he worked as an advocate for Islamist causes, but never stepped over the line into illegality, and felt remorse when innocents died. McGinley said it was just an act.
"On the witness stand the defendant was trying to sell a version of himself," the prosecutor said. "He's good with words. He knows how to persuade people. Don't buy it."