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British Islamic preacher pleads not guilty in U.S. to terrorism

Published:

British radical Islamic preacher Abu Hamza pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court on Tuesday to 11 terror charges, including conspiring to set up an Al-Qaeda-style training camp on American soil.

The one-eyed, handless 54-year-old appeared in Manhattan federal court without his trademark prosthetic hook that he wears on one arm and which was removed by U.S. authorities after he was extradited from Britain last week.

The Egyptian-born cleric is being prosecuted under his birth name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, though he is better known in radical circles as Abu Hamza Al-Masri, a former preacher at mosques in Britain.

Asked by Judge Katherine Forrest to confirm he wanted to plead not guilty to the charges, the grey-bearded British citizen replied quietly: “Yes, your honor.”

It was his only statement during the 35-minute hearing, in which he wore a blue prison smock.

Forrest set August 26 of next year as the trial date and remanded Abu Hamza in custody in the maximum security detention center attached to the downtown New York courthouse.

Also Tuesday, two other men extradited along with Abu Hamza from Britain appeared before a different judge in the same courthouse.

Saudi national Khaled al-Fawwaz and Egyptian Adel Abdul Bary, charged with participating in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, will go to trial October 7, 2013. They have pleaded not guilty.

Two other men, British nationals Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, were also extradited last week and have pleaded not guilty on terrorism-related charges at a court in New Haven, Connecticut.

The trial of Abu Hamza, who allegedly tried to establish a militant training camp in the northwestern U.S. state of Oregon and abducted U.S. and other tourists in Yemen, is expected to take six to eight weeks, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said they will soon provide a mountain of evidence, some of it classified, for review by Abu Hamza's court-funded defense lawyer, Jeremy Schneider.

This includes 8,500 pages of everything from statements by the defendant to the results of searches of his controversial mosque in Finsbury Park, London.

Another four hard drives and 24 DVDs containing documents and videos will also be submitted.

More immediately, Abu Hamza is keen to recover his prosthetic hands.

Schneider said he had use of them part of the day, “but not enough.”

“As you can imagine, he is not happy,” Schneider said. “He is having a hard time.”

Abu Hamza came to widespread public attention when he delivered fiery anti-Western sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in an immigrant area of north London.

Among those attending the mosque were Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to being part of the plot to crash airliners into New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and Richard Reid, who tried to set off explosives hidden in his shoe on a plane in 2001.

Abu Hamza was already sentenced to seven years in prison in Britain for inciting racial hatred. The cleric lost his hands and left eye while in Pakistan and Afghanistan during the period of the Soviet retreat from Afghanistan, when he says he was helping humanitarian causes.

He is also believed to have traveled to Bosnia during the war there in the 1990s, before coming to prominence in London after 9/11, when he praised the terrorist operation.