Abu Hamza al-Masri gives testimony in Manhattan federal court in New York in this artist's sketch May 8, 2014. – Reuters
NEW YORK: British hate preacher Abu Hamza told his US terror trial Thursday that his hands were blown off during a Pakistan army explosives experiment in Lahore in 1993.
The device was prepared by an Arab with the same name as an expert alleged to have taught al Qaeda recruits in Afghanistan in 2000-01.
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 jihad training camp in Oregon in 1999, of providing material support to al Qaeda, of assisting the Taliban and of sending recruits for terror training in Afghanistan.
Work in Pakistan
Taking the stand in his defense for a second day, he told the court he moved with his family to Pakistan in 1992 to do reconstruction work in war-torn Afghanistan.
After Saudi funders pulled the plug on multi-million-dollar projects, he said he helped Arab veterans of the 1980s Afghan jihad against the Soviet Union find jobs with the Pakistan army.
Those with army tactics and explosives experience were wanted “to help with the army in other areas of conflict,” 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.” He said he introduced the army to “some Arabs,” including an Egyptian married to a Pakistani woman.
This Arab had the same name, Abu Khabab, as the man whom British al Qaeda recruit Saajid Badat said taught explosives at a jihad training camp in Afghanistan in 1999-2001.
The work took place in army issued accommodations in the city of Lahore, close to the Indian border, he said.
“I was very surprised,” Abu Hamza said, describing how explosives were tested on empty land between two villas outside on the street.
“I was surprised why the neighbors were not complaining or calling the police. They were all army families,” he said.
Pakistan army asked him to keep quiet
The Arab man was lax with “health and safety,” he said, and prepared a small container of explosives which “Commander Ilyas” put in a detonator before leaving.
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 he “felt the explosion” and saw blood before falling into a coma. He was taken to a military hospital in Lahore, where he spent a month.
Abu Hamza later flew to London to be fitted with a prosthetic before returning to Pakistan to collect his children six months later in early 1994, he told the court.
He said the army offered not to round up any more 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 said.
He described his hospital treatment in Pakistan as “the very best” and that doctors in England “were very impressed about how my stumps were done and healed.” 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.
The preacher got a laugh from the court when he said one of the stories had been that his hands were cut off in Saudi Arabia when he was caught stealing.
He later became emotional when asked about the 1995 massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica, forcing Judge Katherine Forrest to call a seven-minute break. He also 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.
Abu Hamza made another joke, saying it was as easy as paying 25 pounds ($42 in today's money) and giving your name as John Travolta, to further laughs. He faces life in prison in a maximum security US prison if convicted by jury at the New York court.