Media exaggerated my image: Preacher

Updated 09 May 2014
0

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.


French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

Updated 13 sec ago
0

French island rocked by cost-of-living protests

  • The yellow vest movement has plunged La Reunion into its worst bout of violence in nearly 30 years
  • For several nights running, youths armed with petrol bombs and stones have clashed with police

SAINT-DENIS DE LA REUNION: Thirty police officers have been injured in five days of protests over rising living costs on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, the government in Paris said Wednesday.
The “yellow vest” movement, which brought hundreds of thousands of people onto French streets last weekend to protest environmental taxes on fuel, has plunged La Reunion into its worst bout of violence in nearly 30 years.
Roads across the volcanic island of 850,000 people off southeast Africa remained blocked Wednesday by demonstrators, causing petrol stations to run low on fuel, and schools were closed for fear of violence.
The protest movement, triggered by a 23-percent rise in the price of diesel in the past year, has come to encompass broader grievances about the rising cost of essentials and a rollback in public services in small-town and rural France.
For several nights running, youths armed with petrol bombs and stones have clashed with police, leaving 30 officers injured so far, government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said.
One officer lost his hand after a grenade accidentally went off in his car as it was being stoned by demonstrators, the authorities said.
There was no figure available for the number of injured among the demonstrators.
Across France, two people have died and over 500 have been injured since protesters began erecting barricades on roads across the country on Saturday to try to force the government to cancel planned tax hikes on fuel.
On the mainland, the protests had begun to fizzle Wednesday but in La Reunion the situation remained tense, despite the government agreeing to freeze anti-pollution taxes on fuel on the island for three years.
Griveaux blamed the violence on “gangs of youths” using the cover of the protests to “loot, sack and destroy” property and announced that police reinforcements were being sent from Paris.
In mainland France, businesses are also feeling the pinch after five days of unrest.
A PSA Peugeot-Citroen factory in the eastern French town of Sochaux suspended production Wednesday because supply trucks carrying parts from Spain had been unable to get past one of the few remaining roadblocks.
Macron, who has vowed to stay his course despite plummeting poll ratings, on Wednesday threatened “severe” action against protesters who breach the peace, endanger motorists’ lives or intimidate opponents.