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Cleric Has Heated Exchange with Prosecutor During Terror Trial

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A combative cleric gets into a testy exchange with prosecutors out to convince a jury he gave active support to terrorists. NY1's Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Abu Hamza al-Masri, the fiery Muslim preacher from London accused of helping terrorists, wasn't short on words as federal prosecutors grilled him on the stand.

At times, Judge Katherine Forrest and prosecutor John Cronin told al-Masri to simply answer the questions.

His reply: "I don't know how to defend myself if I'm cut off all the time."

Al-Masri wanted to testify more about statements he made in the past, calling Osama bin Laden a hero and saying the killing of non-Muslims was justified. 

He did say he was sorry for some of those statements and his attorneys say it was important for jurors to hear that directly from him. 

"He answered the questions. He was trying to explain himself. A lot of those questions were not necessarily yes or no questions.  They require context, they require some detail, so he was trying to get that out," says al-Masri's attorney, Josh Dratel.

Al-Masri was born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa. He's accused of helping in the kidnapping of 16 tourists, including Americans, in Yemen in 1998. Four people were killed. 

The government also says he aided al-Qaeda and tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.  

Al-Masri says the government is twisting the truth and editing his pro-Muslim speeches to make him sound like a terrorist. His defense agrees. 

"They were taken out context, they were taken at different times, different years, different wars that they were referring to, different statements that he was referring to. He is right; they were of of context and he tried to explain that," says another of al-Masri's attorney's, Jeremy Schneider.

Prosecutors say in numerous speeches and interviews, however, that al-Masri declared non-Muslims should be killed and that he praised Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks.

To that, he replied, he still loves bin Laden, but thought he should have been more disciplined and should have been punished for the attack on the World Trade Center. 

After closing arguments and jury instructions from the judge, deliberations are expected to start Thursday. If convicted, he could spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison.

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