Jury Selected for Abu Hamza Trial in New York

Jury selection began this morning in the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, aka Abu Hamza al-Masri.

The 55-year-old Mustafa also will face a life sentence if he is convicted of conspiring to support al-Qaida by trying in 1999 to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., by arranging for others to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and by ensuring there was satellite phone service for hostage-takers in Yemen in 1998 who abducted two American tourists and 14 others. Four hostages were killed.

Jurors were questioned about Abu Hamza's physical appearance. He has no hands and only one eye: [More....]

The judge had Mustafa stand Monday as she told prospective jurors that his arms have been amputated and asked if anything about his physical appearance would affect their fairness. Mustafa has one eye and claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had a prosthetic arm in court that allows him to write.

The judge rejected the Government's request for an anonymous jury last month.

From her ruling (Doc. 262 available on PACER):

The Government has failed to present any evidence or to make any proffer that this defendant or this case presents a situation in which a jury faces real or threatened violence; they have presented no basis to suggest that there is any threat to juror safety, let alone a "serious threat."

An interesting factoid from Abu Hamza's lawyers' brief opposing the anonymous jury (Doc. 247):

There has not been a reported instance of violence, threats, or intimidation – or attempts
to do so – against jurors in any case in the U.S. involving allegations of terrorism.

Abu Hamza told the Court he will testify in his own defense.

The witnesses against him include former co-defendant James Ujaama (background here and here) who testified against co-defendant Oussama Kassir in 2009 and is awaiting sentencing on his 2007 guilty pleas in the same case, which will happen upon completion of his obligation to testify against Abu Hamza. A more colorful description of his testimony in Kassir's trial on the Bly training camp is here. It wasn't much of a training camp.

Ujaama maintained up through his first sentencing it wasn't intended as a training camp.(More here.)

Kassir was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was affirmed and he is serving his sentence at Supermax in Florence.

Was Abu Hamza a terrorist or a windbag? The Guardian described how the U.S. case against Abu Hamza came about:

It was the arrest and trial of an American Muslim convert called James Ujaama that opened a chink in the cleric's armour and gave the FBI and other US agencies the evidence they felt they needed to nail Mr Hamza.

Ujaama pleaded guilty to helping the Taliban and agreed to give evidence against Mr Hamza in return for a lesser sentence. He had run Mr Hamza's Supporters of Shariah website for more than a year and US authorities claim that he sent a fax from a Kinko's photocopy shop in Washington to Mr Hamza in London saying that a ranch in Oregon would be suitable to "store and conceal guns, bunkers and ammunition". The authorities say Mr Hamza then sent two of his supporters, Oussama Kassir and Haroon Rashid Aswat, to Oregon via New York to look into the setting up of the terror training camp.

Mr Hamza has mocked the idea of a camp in Oregon, wondering why potential terrorists would want to go to Oregon when they could go to Afghanistan. He said: "To tell you the truth, I don't know where Oregon is on the map."

The New York Times asked, Was Ujaama a terrorist or a hustler? From another description by a visiting professor at Harvard:

The case of James Ujaama, who supplied the Oregon terrorist training camp allegation, is equally disturbing. Ujaama was born James Ernest Thompson and grew up in Seattle. He became a web designer, wrote a novel and was committed to charitable social work. In 1996 he moved to London for a while, converted to Islam and is said to have met Abu Hamza. By 9/11 he was back in the US. In August 2003 he was charged with conspiring to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Had he been convicted on all the original charges he could have been sentenced to 25 years. Alternatively, he could have been designated an illegal combatant and detained indefinitely. Or he could give the FBI what they wanted to hear.

This morning, the Court granted the Government's request to have another cooperating witness, Saajid Badat, testify by video from London. (He was supposed to be the second shoe bomber along with Richard Reid back in 2001 but got cold feet and backed out. He was convicted in Great Britain and got a sentence reduction for agreeing to cooperate with the UK and US.) The request to allow his video testimony against Abu Hamza was up in the air until the Government filed a letter saying he would be arrested on a pending terror charge in Mass. if he came to the U.S. to testify in person. The Government outlined his proposed testimony in this letter to the Court.

Badat will be offering testimony only about his contacts with Abbasi and other o-conspirators such as Ibn Sheikh. He does not personally know the defendant, does not recall ever meeting the defendant, and did not participate in any crimes with the defendant.

Badat also testified by video last month in the case against Abu Ghayth, Osama bin Laden's brother in law, and in the 2012 trial of Adis Medunjanin , a co-conspirator of Najibullah Zazi.

The Telegraph described his testimony as "empty."

Another Government witness against Abu Hamza will be terror expert Doogie Howser (who by now is all grown up, and even though his expertise is basically collecting information from the Internet, has had his testimony accepted by several courts.)

Abu Hamza was arrested in Great Britain in 2004. He was tried and convicted there in 2006 of inciting racial hatred and encouraging his followers to kill non-Muslims, and sentenced to 7 years. The U.S. moved for his extradition, which was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights was approved by Great Britain in 2012 (orders here and here .)

It's unlikely that Abu Hamza will spend much time at Supermax if convicted. The European Human Rights Court obtained letters from BOP officials that said he'd most likely be transferred to a medical facility after a short time. (See pages 8 and 9 and this press release on the decision:

The Court also refused Abu Hamza’s request for reconsideration of its decision to declare his complaint concerning ADX 1nadmissible. The Court observed that the United States authorities would consider Abu Hamza’s detention at ADX impossible because of his disabilities (particularly the amputation of his forearms).

TalkLeft has been following Ujaama's case since his initial arrest in Denver in 2002, and major developments in Abu Hamza's case since 2004. All of our coverage is available here.

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