Radical Cleric Preached Hatred and Murder, Prosecution Argues
A prosecutor Wednesday accused Abu Hamza al Masri, an Egyptian-born Muslim cleric, of preaching hatred, telling followers that the world should be run by a Muslim caliph “sitting in the White House” and that it was legitimate to kill foes of Islamic law.
The high-profile trial began at London’s Old Bailey criminal court a day after jury selection, with Masri facing 15 counts of conspiracy to murder and using threatening, abusive and insulting language and behavior in incitement to religious hatred. He also is charged with possessing material and documents relating to terrorist activities. The trial is expected to last four weeks.
Masri, a large man who says he lost an eye and both hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, became well known as the radical preacher at North London’s Finsbury Park Mosque. The mosque was considered a crossroads for terrorists such as Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, before and after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The galleries at the Old Bailey were packed as prosecutor David Perry told jurors that instead of preaching tolerance, Masri preached hatred, particularly against Jews. Tapes seized after Masri’s arrest in 2004 reveal the defendant vilifying Jews as “blasphemous, traitors and dirty. It’s because of their filth that Hitler was sent into the world to torture and humiliate Jews,” Perry related to the court.
The court, presided over by Judge Anthony Hughes, heard that when Masri was arrested, police found 2,700 audiotapes and 570 videotapes at his West London home and another London address. The material amounted to a blueprint for how life should be lived according to Masri, Perry said.
The overriding theme, he said, was the “obligation to jihad,” which justified, according to Masri, killing nonbelievers and enemies of Islam. Those enemies included Western nations and Arab states, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, that are aligned with the West, the prosecution said.
Perry said Masri also supported suicide bombers. “As far as the defendant is concerned, you don’t call it suicide, you call it martyrdom,” Perry said. He quoted the cleric as saying, “If we don’t use terrorism and torture, what are we going to use?”
Masri, who has denied the charges, sat in the dock in the courtroom wearing a pale blue shirt over matching pants, surrounded by four guards. He seemed to follow the proceedings attentively, occasionally bowing his head or consulting with a female assistant. As a preacher, he normally wore a prosthetic hook, but he has not been allowed to have it during his incarceration.
The tapes allegedly chronicle sermons and talks Masri made from 1997 to 2000, some including references to terrorist attacks, including the suicide bombing of the U.S. Navy destroyer Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, and the slaying of 58 tourists in Luxor, Egypt, in November 1997.
The prosecution also described the “Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad,” an alleged terrorist manual seized from Masri, which included chapters on the construction of weapons, intelligence gathering, combat and, in Perry’s words, “all you need to know to make homemade bombs or explosives.”
The prosecutor argued that the proceeding should not be seen as a trial against Islam, “one of the great monotheistic religions,” or an infringement of free speech. “Tolerance does not extend to racial hatred and encouragement of murder,” Perry said.
The United States indicted Masri in 2004 on 11 terrorism-related charges, including his alleged role in a plot to set up a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon in 1999. It is seeking his extradition.
Times staff writer John Daniszewski contributed to this report.