NEW YORK – An Egyptian-born preacher pleaded not guilty Tuesday to conspiring with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, three days after he and four others were brought to the United States from England to face terrorism charges.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 54, entered the plea shortly before U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest set an Aug. 26 trial date. Mustafa, widely known by the name Abu Hamza al-Masri, is also accused of helping abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
"He's presumed innocent," his court-appointed lawyer, Jeremy Schneider, said outside court afterward. When someone asked Schneider whether he thought his client was a terrorist, he snapped: "That's a silly question."
Schneider said his client prefers to be known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, the name listed first on his indictment. Abu Hamza and Abu Hamza al-Masri are listed as aliases.
There was no mention in court Tuesday about access to the prosthetics — including a hook — that Mustafa uses in place of the hands he says he lost fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, but Schneider said outside court that it was a problem for him.
"I believe he has use of them for a certain part of the day but not long enough to allow him to function the way he should function," he said. "As you can well imagine, he's not happy he's in a situation like this without use of his prosthetics."
"He's having a hard time. He doesn't have hands," he said.
He also is missing an eye. His lawyers in England said he suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments.
Earlier Tuesday, two men brought from England to face terrorism charges on Saturday along with Mustafa made their first appearance before U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan, who set an October 2013 trial date.
Khaled al-Fawwaz, 50, and Adel Abdul Bary, 52, are charged with participating in the bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998. The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. They were indicted in a case that also charged Usama bin Laden.
Both pleaded not guilty on Saturday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean S. Buckley said the men made statements to officers in the United Kingdom that may be part of the evidence at a trial he estimated would last up to three months.
Two other men brought from Britain were arraigned in Connecticut on Saturday on terrorism charges.
Mustafa became well-known in the 1990s as his Finsbury Park Mosque in London became a training ground for extremist Islamists including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and attempted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. He had been jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges.
Traci Billingsley, a U.S. Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said she cannot provide specific information about individual inmates.
"In general, if an inmate arrives at any of our facilities with a prosthetic that we believe could pose a danger, it would not be permitted inside," she said, adding that the inmate would be medically evaluated to determine whether other accommodations or devices would be appropriate.
John N. Billock, head of the Orthotics & Prosthetics Rehabilitation Engineering Centre in Warren, Ohio, and a pioneer in the field, said a hook for a hand would "definitely be considered a weapon."
"You could brutalize somebody with it," he said. "You can put somebody's eyes out or knock out their teeth."
He said hooks are typically made of stainless steel or aluminum. The price of prosthetics in place of hands can range from $15,000 to $100,000, he said.
Mustafa is being held prior to trial in the same federal lockup where a prison guard lost an eye and was left brain-damaged when he was stabbed with a sharpened comb in 2000 by a terrorism defendant awaiting trial in the embassy bombings plot.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty in the stabbing.