US & Canada

Abu Hamza trial: Defence claims radical worked with MI5

Abu Hamza Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Abu Hamza is on trial in the US on terror charges

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri acted as a secret intermediary with MI5, his lawyers have claimed.

The Egyptian-born preacher, on trial in New York charged with terror offences, claims he was tasked to "keep the streets of London safe".

It is not the first time he has made the claim, having previously said that MI5 first contacted him in 1997.

Abu Hamza, who denies 11 kidnapping and terrorism charges, was giving evidence for the first time in the trial.

Holding up documents he said were from Scotland Yard, defence lawyer Joshua Dratel made the claim before his client took to the stand.

The defence wants to introduce the reports, which it claims demonstrate how the preacher co-operated with police to calm tensions and to help release hostages.

But the judge has ruled the evidence inadmissible.

Hostages killed

Earlier, the Manhattan federal court heard from a prosecution witness from New Zealand, who was among the 16 tourists taken hostage in Yemen.

Mary Quin told the court that Abu Hamza was involved in the kidnapping, in which four hostages were killed during a rescue attempt by the Yemeni military.

Abu Hamza's lawyer claimed the radical had merely acted as a mediator.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The radical cleric lost an eye and both his hands in Afghanistan

The 56-year-old radical preacher was jailed in the UK for inciting murder and racial hatred with his sermons at a north London mosque, before being extradited to the US nearly two years ago.

He maintained he had never helped al-Qaeda or other militant groups.

Born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, the cleric recounted his life story to the court.

Having moved to England from Egypt, he said he had been "on the wrong side of morality", running a strip club in Soho, before becoming a devoted follower of Islam.

He said he had worked in construction projects at Sandhurst - the Army officer academy where Princes Harry and William trained - and that he had gained a degree in civil engineering.

Abu Hamza, who has already spent eight years in a British prison, faces life imprisonment in the US if found guilty of aiding terrorism.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Abu Hamza used to address supporters in Finsbury Park, north London

The court heard how Ms Quin travelled to the Finsbury Park mosque where Abu Hamza once preached in London to interview him for a book, and taped their hour-long conversation.

During their meeting, which took place before Abu Hamza was extradited, the preacher justified the kidnapping and killing of civilians in the defence of Islam.

"Islamically, it's a good thing to do," he was heard saying in the recorded conversation.

He was also taped confirming that he had spoken to Abu Hassan, the chief militant in Yemen, on the day of the kidnapping.

The court heard a recording when he was asked by Ms Quin if he had provided the kidnappers with a satellite phone.

"Yeah, perhaps," he replied.

US prosecutors allege that the Muslim cleric provided a satellite phone and £500 worth of call time to help the kidnappers.

He has pleaded not guilty.

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