Opening arguments started in Manhattan Thursday for the terror trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who faces 11 charges. NY1's Jon Weinstein filed the following report.
It was a surprising start Thursday to the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, as Judge Katherine Forrest announced she had received a five-page letter from the defendant asking to give his own opening statement. That request was denied.
The defense lawyers said there is no tension between them and their client.
"After Josh gave his opening and after we did the witnesses, there's no issue at all in terms of why he wanted to give his opening," said defense attorney Jeremy Schneider.
During the opening arguments that followed, both sides laid out their cases. The prosecution hammered Mustafa, saying his cause was war, and it was all-consuming. The government is alleging that he tried to set up a terror training camp in Oregon, provided support to al-Qaida in Afghanistan and helped set up the kidnapping of western tourists in Yemen.
The judge is allowing as evidence multiple videos showing Mustafa preaching to kill non-Muslims and praising the September 11 attacks.
However, in their opening, the defense urged jurors to focus only on the facts surrounding the charges against him, which they say are false.
"The government has the burden, beyond a reasonable doubt, to prove each of the elements of each crime and not what you just said, that he makes speeches, that they mention bin Laden and all of that," said defense attorney Joshua Dretal.
Mustafa listened as the first witness testified about her experience at the alleged training camp in 1999. She said she and her husband had gone there not thinking it was a training camp. She said she saw people shooting guns and spoke with Mustafa when he called the ranch in Oregon.
Defense attorneys strongly challenged her about her memory and credibility on cross-examination.
"Her ability, or inability, to remember things, I think is something that the jury is going to have to evaluate," Schneider said. "They have to decide if what she says is believable."
That first witness will be back on the stand on Friday for more questions from prosecutors. The whole trial is expected to take between four and five weeks.