Southern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley delivers closing argument Wednesday as Judge Katherine Forrest looks on. (Jane Rosenberg)
Prosecutor Ian McGinley told a jury Wednesday that weeks of testimony, tapes of speeches and the defendant’s own words from the witness stand should erase all reasonable doubt that London imam Mustafa Kamel Mustafa championed terror attacks and hostage taking.
Delivering the government’s closing argument, McGinley, a Southern District assistant U.S. attorney, said the man also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri lied on the witness stand—and lied badly—to distance himself from al Qaida, Osama bin Laden, a kidnapping in Yemen and missions by his minions to train for terrorism in Afghanistan and Oregon.
“He, Abu Hamza, praised almost every bloody murderous attack. He endorsed suicide bombings,” McGinley said. “Abu Hamza stood up before his men and he praised Osama bin Laden time and time again.”
McGinley said the defendant’s testimony over four days during the last week was designed to mask the fact that he was inciting his followers to fight his “battles across the globe.”
Defense counsel Jeremy Schneider countered in his closing that the government’s case was built on the flimsy testimony of cooperators and on speeches and statements that never inspired violence.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, left, and his defense counsel Jeremy Schneider. (Jane Rosenberg)
Schneider told the jury that evidence failed to show that Mustafa used his perch and prestige at the Finsbury Park mosque in London to send two men to establish a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon and a third man to train with al Qaida in Afghanistan.
Schneider tried to undermine the Bly evidence by deriding Oussama Kassir, who was convicted in New York in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison for establishing the training camp.
According to cooperator James Ujaama, the government’s own witness, there was never any training camp, merely a plan for an Islamic retreat, Schneider said. Guns brought to Bly from a Seattle mosque were legal, he said, and used mostly to guard against coyotes and protect the sheep.
“There were no stockpiling of weapons, no guns brought illegally, no weapons brought from abroad,” Schneider said, adding, “Nobody went there to be trained, no one paid a cent to be trained. Nobody.”
It was Kassir, he said, who went off on his own; he took Ujaama’s idea for a retreat and “snatched it,” trying to turn it into a training camp. “Kassir is guilty as sin,” said Schneider, who then pointed his finger at Mustafa and added, “It doesn’t mean he’s guilty.”
“Ujaama was very clear that Kassir was acting alone, that it was Kassir’s baby, that it was Kassir planning on turning it into a training camp,” he said.
Mustafa presided over the Finsbury Park mosque until he was convicted in 2006 for solicitation to violence. He insisted from the witness stand that he was being retried in an American court for the same crime he was convicted on in London—a crime based only on words.
“The vast majority of the evidence is his words, not his deeds,” Schneider said.
Kidnapping in Yemen
But McGinley countered that the multiple tapes of speeches and interviews played for the jury were in direct conflict with Mustafa’s testimony.
“He said what he truly believed in until it was time to be held accountable for his crimes, until it was time to come before an American jury,” he said. “And then he changed his tune.”
“Abu Hamza would have you believe that nothing is as it seems,” he said. “This man, this boss, is trying to place the blame on everybody but himself. He wants you to believe that he was misunderstood, that his men were free agents, that it was everyone else’s fault.”
McGinley argued Mustafa was right in the middle of a plot to kidnap 16 tourists in Yemen in 1998 that ended with the death of four hostages during a government rescue mission.
He said Mustafa bought and provided the satellite phone to the lead man in the kidnap plot, Abu Hussan. Mustafa then bought extra minutes for the phone, spoke to Hussan 20 times before the kidnapping and then spoke to him by phone twice after the hostages were taken.
And McGinley said the plot was designed to engineer a swap of hostages in exchange for five British citizens, including Mustafa’s step-son, who were arrested for anti-Yemen government activities on Dec. 23, 1998, five days before the kidnapping.
Mustafa, he said, admitted as much to Mary Quin, the author of a book about the kidnapping, when she went to London to question him in 1999.
Mustafa conceded to Quin that Hussan wanted to swap hostages for prisoners and said, “We never thought it would be that bad,” McGinley said.
While on the stand, Mustafa, gesticulating with the stumps of hands that were blown off in Afghanistan, tried to explain he didn’t mean to use the term “we” to include himself.
“He wants to suspend the rules of the language?” McGinley said incredulously. “He got his pronouns wrong?”
McGinley also expressed scorn for Mustafa’s claim that he only acted as a mediator to defuse the hostage crisis. “His sons went to Yemen, he warned Westerners to stay out of Yemen, yet he wants you to believe he was somehow a peacemaker in Yemen?”
During the defense closing, Schneider targeted Saajid Badat, a government cooperator who bailed out of the Richard Reid shoe-bomb plot in 2001, served six years in prison, and testified earlier this year in the trial that ended in the conviction of Sulaiman Abu Ghayth.
Schneider told the jury Badat was not believable when testifying about Afghanistan because of his own deep involvement with al Qaida. He contrasted Badat with his own client.
“This [Badat] is the guy who was going to blow up an American plane with a bomb!” Schneider said. “This is a guy who was intimately involved with bin Laden, and he’s walking around the streets now!”
Addressing the kidnapping in Yemen, Schneider argued that Mustafa had nothing to hide and his actions belied those of a kidnapper, including buying the satellite phone in his own name and with a credit card and posting warnings to tourists about the dangers of Yemen on a website of his organization “Supporters of Sharia.”
“His warnings [are] not the actions of a kidnapper,” Schneider said. “If you’re going to kidnap someone, you don’t tell them ahead of time.”
Later, Schneider said, “The government’s going to rely on the word ‘we,’ to make their case on the Yemen kidnapping.”
“That’s not right,” he told the jury. “You can’t accept that.”
The day ended with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan delivering the government’s rebuttal.
Cronan outlined the lies he said Mustafa told on the witness stand. He also tried to counter Schneider’s criticism of Badat and Ujaama as criminals who could not be trusted by saying the prosecution has to take their information where they find it.
“There weren’t that many upstanding people trying to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon,” Cronan said. “There weren’t too many people lacing up their boots with shoe bombs.”
“Sometimes to get to the heart of a crime organization, to get to the heart of a foreign terrorist organization” you have to get on the inside and deal with people who are there, he said.
Deliberations are expected to begin Thursday after Judge Katherine Forrest (See Profile) completes her instructions on the law for the jury.