Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

Updated 09 May 2014
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Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

NEW YORK: For years, the London imam Abu Hamza Al-Masri has been known as much for the distinctive metal hook he wore in place of his missing right hand as for his fiery sermons.
On Thursday, for what appeared to be the first time, Abu Hamza claimed he lost both hands and one eye in an accidental explosion in Pakistan two decades ago.
His account, which came as he testified in New York at his trial on terrorism charges, conflicted with media stories that he suffered the injuries while fighting the Soviets alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
The preacher said his image as a veteran of the Afghan war was exaggerated by the press.
“Unfortunately, the reputation is larger than the reality,” he told a jury in Manhattan federal court, in a baritone that carried across the room.
The British preacher told his US terror trial that he loved Osama Bin Laden but refused when invited to join Al-Qaeda at its inception.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 56, better known in Britain as Abu Hamza Al-Masri has pleaded not guilty in New York to 11 kidnapping and terror counts that pre-date 9/11.
He is charged over the 1998 kidnapping in Yemen of 16 Westerners, conspiracy to set up a US training camp, providing material support to Al-Qaeda, assisting the Taleban and sending terror recruits to Afghanistan.
He denies all the charges, but on the stand for a second day said he “loved” bin Laden, the founder of Al-Qaeda shot dead by US troops in Pakistan in 2011.
“He’s a very famous man. Everyone loves him, including myself,” he told the Manhattan courtroom not far from where Al-Qaeda reduced the Twin Towers to rubble. He never met the Al-Qaeda founder and refused to join the terror group when invited, he said.
But he called him “Sheikh bin Laden” and in a video clip justified the 2000 Al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 personnel as a military operation.
For the first time, Abu Hamza announced that his blindness in one eye and amputated hands occurred not in Afghanistan as always thought, but in Pakistan.
He said the accident happened during an explosives experiment with the Pakistani army in August 1993.
The device was prepared by an Egyptian called Abu Khabab, he said, the same name as an expert alleged to have taught Western Al-Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan in 2000-01.
He said the army offered not to round up Arab former mujahideen in exchange for his silence.
“The army said look we’re not going to make any more arrests, just don’t embarrass us about what happened,” the preacher told the jury.
Asked if he fired a weapon in Afghanistan, he confessed: “I wish I had,” saying that instead he shot “a couple of bullets at the communist regime.”
After the 1980s war against the Soviets in Afghanistan he said he helped Arab veterans find jobs in Pakistan.
The army wanted those with tactics and explosives experience to help in other areas, Abu Hamza testified.
In 1993 he said he was designing a steel plate with a Pakistani engineer as part of a wider, unidentified project for which “others were designing explosives.”
The work took place in army-issue accommodation in the city of Lahore, where explosives were tested on empty land between two villas on the street, he said.
“I was surprised why the neighbors were not complaining or calling the police. They were all army families,” he said.
The Arab was lax with “health and safety,” he said, and prepared a small container of explosives to which “Commander Ilyas” added a detonator.
Abu Hamza said he picked up the device, which was getting hot, but couldn’t throw it in the bathroom as previously advised because someone was at the sink.
He said it exploded and he fell into a coma, spending a month in a military hospital in Lahore.
Previous reports said that he lost his arms in Afghanistan, but Abu Hamza said “all sorts of stories” had circulated about the reason for his injuries.
Despite often rambling and at times confused testimony, he elicited a few laughs from the court.
He testified to changing his name legally on his British passport in order to travel to Bosnia in the mid-1990s to provide cars and money to Muslim fighters.
Flying to Sarajevo would have been a “death sentence” for an Arab, he said, so he changed his name saying it was “very, very simple.”
“You pay 25 pounds ($42 today) and write out saying I want to be John Travolta and you become John Travolta,” he said to titters in the courtroom.
Of his time in Bosnia, he twice teared up with emotion.
Asked about the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica, Judge Katherine Forrest called a short break as he started snuffling and bowing his head.
The conflict convinced him of the need to train even children in self-defense so that Muslims could live in dignity and not be trampled on by superpowers.
He faces life in prison if convicted.


Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

Updated 51 min 16 sec ago
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Nearly 6,000 Filipino Muslims to perform Hajj this year

  • Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
  • This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).

MANILA: On Sunday, Filipino Muslims will start their pilgrimage to Makkah in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj — a pinnacle in every Muslim’s life.
Each year, two to three million people who are able to undertake the journey descend on Islam’s holiest city to deepen their faith and cleanse themselves of their sins.
This year, 5,800 Muslims from the Philippines will make the trip, according to Omar Mandia, chief administrative officer at the Office of the Hajj Attache, National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF).
Aside from the Filipino Muslims, some foreign diplomats will be among the delegates from the Philippines.
“There are diplomats who want to join us. They are requesting to be included. These are from the Libyan Embassy, UAE and Iran. They want to join us,” Mandia told Arab News.
“They can just arrange for their Hajj visa but they need to be accommodated in our housing and space in Mina and Arafat,” Mandia continued, as he explained that housing accommodation for pilgrims is done country-to-country, which means that the NCMF has to write a request to the Ministry of Hajj for additional slots to accommodate the diplomats.
In 2017, a total of 6,032 Filipino Muslims performed Hajj, but the number has fallen slightly this year.
“Last year, we had a bigger number of pilgrims from the Philippines, but we’ve reduced it... because of stringent visa requirements,” said Mandia.
An incident in 2016 when dozens of Indonesians were intercepted using Filipino Hajj passports en route to Makkah, prompted the authorities to introduce tight measures to ensure that no other nationalities join the Philippine contingent’s pilgrimage.
“That’s one reason why they’ve been very strict on securing the passports. They don’t want a repeat of that controversy. We are still bearing the consequence of that anomaly,” said Mandia. “We have assured them (Saudi authorities) that we have taken steps in order to prevent that from happening again,” he added.
Of the 5,800 Filipino Muslim pilgrims, the majority are from Cotabato and Lanao provinces, and include pilgrims from war-torn Marawi City.
Mandia, who will also be performing Hajj this year, added: “I’m from Marawi. Our house was destroyed during the siege. We are still not allowed to go back as it is a restricted site even today. They said there are still live bombs there you could step on and get killed.”
When he performs the pilgrimage he said that it would be “a sigh of relief after all those problematic days,” referring to the five-month battle in Marawi.
On average, a Filipino Muslim spends up to 200,000 pesos on Hajj. Some lawmakers sponsor Hajj for those who would not otherwise be able to afford to make the trip, especially those from Marawi City who suffered major devastation during the siege.
The first two batches of pilgrims are scheduled to leave on July 22 on a Saudi Airlines flight. The country’s flag carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), also has direct flights to take pilgrims from the Philippines to Madinah.
“Last year they (PAL) were not able to get landing permit, so we had to land in Kuwait and an airline in Kuwait flew them to Madinah. Now they have been able to secure a landing permit so they will be transporting pilgrims directly from Philippines to Madinah,” said Mandia.