New York - One-eyed radical Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri pleaded not guilty in federal court on Tuesday after Britain extradited him to the United States last week to face trial and a potential life sentence on terrorism charges.
U.S. District Court Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan set a trial date of Aug. 26, 2013, for the Egyptian-born preacher, who is missing both his hands and an eye - injuries he says he sustained during humanitarian work in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Hamza, 54, is accused of participating in an 1998 hostage-taking in Yemen that resulted in the deaths of three Britons and an Australian. He is also charged with providing material support to the al Qaeda network by trying to set up a training camp in Oregon and with attempting to organize support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
He was flown late on Friday to the United States along with four other men also wanted on U.S. terrorism charges. Hamza could face up to life in prison if convicted on the charges.
Hamza had made an initial appearance in federal court in Saturday but did not enter a plea at that time.
At Tuesday's hearing, he again appeared without his prosthetic - a signature metal hook - that he wears because of his missing forearms.
Hamza, through his attorney, asked that he be referred to as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, his name at birth, instead of Abu Hamza, his adopted moniker.
Jeremy Schneider, his court-appointed attorney, told the judge that his client wished to enter “a plea of not guilty to that indictment.”
“Is that your plea, Mr. Mustafa?” the judge asked. “Yes, it is,” he answered.
Hamza lost his eight-year battle to avoid deportation on Friday after two London High Court judges refused to delay his departure. The European Court of Human Rights refused to stop Britain from extraditing Hamza and the four other men also wanted on U.S. terrorism charges.
Under the terms of British and European court rulings authorizing the extradition, the men must be tried in U.S. civilian courts and federal prosecutors cannot seek the death penalty.
After the 35-minute hearing, Schneider told reporters that he hoped the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons would find a solution to allow his client the use of his arms. The Bureau of Prisons oversees the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan, where Hamza is jailed.
“He is a gentleman who needs help with his health,” Schneider said. “As you can imagine, he's not happy that he's in a situation like this without the use of his prosthetics.”
Also on Tuesday, two of the other defendants, Saudi native Khalid al-Fawwaz, 50, and Egyptian Adel Abdul Bary, 52, appeared in federal court in Manhattan. U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan set a preliminary trial date of Oct. 7, 2013, for the pair.
The two men had pleaded not guilty on Saturday to charges stemming from the 1998 al Qaeda bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. Also on Saturday, the two other suspects wanted on U.S. terrorism charges pleaded not guilty in a New Haven, Connecticut federal court.
The cases are U.S. v. Mustafa Kamel Mustafa and U.S. v. Khalid al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Nos. 04-cr-00356 and 98-cr-1023. - Reuters