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US Trial Opens for Egyptian-Born Cleric Extradited From Britain

The self-styled cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, leads his followers in prayer in the street outside Finsbury Park Mosque, London, Friday Jan. 23, 2004
The trial of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has opened in New York, with federal prosecutors describing the fiery 55-year-old imam as using "the cover of religion" to conceal his role in a global campaign of terrorism.

During opening statements Thursday, prosecutors told a jury of eight men and four women that Abu Hamza -- born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa -- aided a deadly 1998 hostage-taking in Yemen. He also is accused of sending men to train with al-Qaida in Afghanistan, and of helping direct a terrorist training camp in the northwestern United States. He faces multiple terrorism-related charges and life in prison if convicted.

Abu Hamza denies the charges, and on Thursday his lawyers sought to portray him as simply engaging in "harsh" rhetoric as a cleric in Britain.

The defendant was extradited from Britain to the United States in 2012, after serving a seven-year prison term for inciting murder and racial hatred from his North London mosque.

Investigators also have linked the cleric to several high-profile militants, including Briton Richard Reid, who unsuccessfully tried to blow up an airliner in 2001 with a bomb hidden in his shoe. Reid is serving a life term in a U.S. prison.

Abu Hamza, who is blind in one eye, lost both hands while reportedly fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1970s.

He has vowed to testify in his own defense in his trial, which is expected to last about one month.