NEW YORK — The extradited Muslim cleric known as Abu Hamza al Masri pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges that he conspired to establish a terrorist training camp in the United States. Abu Hamza was arraigned in U.S. federal court in New York.
The Egyptian, Islamist cleric pleaded not guilty to 11 counts against him, including conspiracy to organize an al-Qaida-style training camp in the northwestern state of Oregon. He also is charged with taking hostages in Yemen, including two Americans in December 1998, as well as conspiracy to provide material support to al-Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest set August 26, 2013 as the trial date. Abu Hamza's attorney, Jeremy Schneider, sought a date in September, saying he needs more time to build a defense.
The 54-year-old suspect was extradited to the United States from Britain last week, following a prolonged legal battle. Also extradited were Khaled al Fawwaz and Adel Abdel Bary. They are accused of complicity in the terror bombings of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.
Abu Hamza was the imam of a London mosque, where he preached against the West. Among his followers was Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber.” Reid is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for trying to blow up a passenger plane bound for Miami in 2001.
Abu Hamza is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in New York City. He uses prosthetics in place of both hands, which he says he lost in a struggle against Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
Attorney Jeremy Schneider said his client is unhappy about being denied full use of his prosthetics.
“I believe he has use of his prosthetics for a certain portion of the day, but not long enough to allow him to function the way he should function so he can help me do what he has to do, and what I have to do,” said Schneider.
Prison officials say the metal hooks on the prosthetics constitute a security risk. The Muslim cleric is to be issued ones made from rubber instead.
Abu Hamza faces life imprisonment if found guilty on the most serious charge of hostage taking. The other charges carry maximum sentences ranging from five to 15 years.