Media exaggerated my image: Preacher
Media exaggerated my image: Preacher
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.
Guantanamo prison takes on geriatric airs
- The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly
- With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with modern equipment
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba: The controversial Guantanamo Bay prison still houses 40 aging inmates — and with no plans to close it, many of them will probably remain there until they die.
The population still imprisoned at the military base in Cuba range from middle-aged to elderly — the oldest inmate is 71 — so the prison with a history of torture has taken on some airs of a geriatric facility.
The US Army — directed to ensure Guantanamo can stay open at least another 25 years — has revamped parts of the institution home to terror suspects to include a dedicated medical center and operating rooms.
“There has been a lot of thought put into what preparing for an aging detainee population looks like and what infrastructure we need to have in place to do that safely and humanely,” said Anne Leanos, the public affairs director for Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
With a budget of $12 million, a prison annex has been transformed into a public hospital, complete with a radiology room equipped with an MRI scanner, as well as an emergency room and three-bed intensive care unit.
During a journalist visit to the new clinic, a walker sits in the corner of a room, which has a hospital bed, wheelchair and medical equipment akin to any other infirmary.
But there is no window, and wire mesh serves as a partition, recalling that this is still very much a detention center.
Congress will not allow sick prisoners to travel to the United States for treatment: Guantanamo inmates are considered highly dangerous by the government, which accuses them of participating in various attacks including those of September 11.
No prisoner needs a wheelchair yet — but if the need arises, the clinic is prepared with ramps.
Patients suffer from ailments common for their age: diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal diseases and motor disorders.
The second-floor psychiatric ward is equipped with two cells converted into consultation rooms.
A third, completely empty cell is padded and serves as the isolation room for prisoners experiencing psychotic episodes.
Like any staff deployed to Guantanamo, prison psychiatrists usually stay just nine to 12 months on site, limiting the scope of their interaction with prisoners.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) visits Guantanamo about four times a year to make sure the prison is complying with detention standards and to assess detainees’ treatment.
Since the infamous detention center opened in 2002, nine inmates have died: seven committed suicide, according to the military, while one died of cancer and another had a heart attack.
The largest contingent — 26 inmates — at the military complex have never been charged with anything, but are considered too dangerous to be released.
One “highly compliant” inmate was on a “non-religious fast,” at the moment of the visit — a euphemism used at the prison to describe hunger strikes prisoners regularly observe in protest.
Acts of rebellion are fairly common — and base commander Admiral John Ring said one inmate was currently under disciplinary action.
“These are the ones that could not be released,” said Ring. “Many of these gentlemen are still at war with the United States.
“Any act of resistance, no matter how small — they are still fighting the war through these minor acts of resistance.”