Mustafa Kamel Mustafa in October 2012. (Rex Features)
Federal prosecutors went after accused terrorist Mustafa Kamel Mustafa Tuesday, making him explain his most outrageous statements about al Qaida, Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks.
In a morning-long cross examination, Southern District Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan repeatedly threw Mustafa’s quotes back in his face, eventually frustrating the 56-year-old one-time leader of the Finsbury Park mosque in London into saying the jury should be told about the “hallucination of all these charges.”
Cronan asked Mustafa, who was convicted in London of solicitation to murder and several other crimes in 2006, about his attitude toward infidels, telling his followers, “What will bring you honor, unless you go and put his nose in the toilet and chop off the head and take his wife as booty and throw the head in the stable.”
“I was emotional,” Mustafa said. “I got seven years for that.”
A few minutes later, trying to subvert directions from Judge Katherine Forrest (See Profile) that the defense not detail his London convictions, Mustafa told Cronan, “I never thought you were going to try me for my tapes again.”
Mustafa faces life in prison on 11 counts centered on providing material support and resources to al Qaida and the Taliban. He is accused of sending men to Oregon and Afghanistan to train for terror operations and of assisting a kidnapping plot in Yemen that ended in the death of four hostages.
In direct examination by defense lawyer Joshua Dratel over three days that ended Monday, Mustafa stuck to his defense that the statements were all made long ago and in another context, and that he had to appeal to more radical elements in order to control them.
He tried to continue that approach Tuesday, saying, “You need to maintain leverage on the youth, on the people who are sincere. You’ve got to coach them to safety.”
He also tried to explain why he expressed his love for bin Laden and called him “a great man.”
“He was an example for all Mujihadeen because of his “past, his experiences, his goals and achievements,” Mustafa said.
“In June in 2002, you called Osama bin Laden a hero, did you not?” Cronan asked. “Nine months after 9/11?”
Mustafa said a playing of the whole tape on which that statement appeared would show that he also thought that bin Laden should be hauled before an Islamic Court and be “beheaded.”
Mustafa grew peevish under questioning from Cronan, complaining that the prosecution had cherry-picked only part of the tapes and stripped his comments of context “by cutting and pasting,” and saying the prosecutor “is not after justice, you are after [a] conviction.”
And to Forrest, he said, “I don’t know how to defend myself if I’m cut off all the time.”
At another point, an exasperated Mustafa said, “Everything you throw at me was before the year 2000.”
More than once, Forrest had to break in and stop Mustafa from rambling and interrupting Cronan’s questioning with questions of his own.
“The way it works,” the judge said, “is he will ask you, and you won’t ask him.”
Mustafa denied knowing convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid and would-be 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui, and he claimed no knowledge that the will of one of the hijackers was discovered by investigators at the mosque.
He defended his statements that the attacks on the World Trade Center were an inside job—the result of planted explosions—and said he merely called for the cause of the destruction to be “investigated.”
“You demolish the building and use it as a pretext for war,” he said, adding later, “How much of 9/11 belonged to al Qaida and how much of 9/11 belonged to the prior administration?”
On re-direct by Dratel, Mustafa again tried to separate his rhetoric from the violent actions of others. But he defended the need for Muslims to fight back, as long as there is “proportionality.”
“There is no way I ever said that harmless people or innocent people should be killed in any way, shape or form,” he said.