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Cleric Denies Stirring Racial Hatred

January 19, 2006

LONDON (AP) _ A radical Muslim cleric charged with inciting his followers to kill non-Muslims said Thursday that racism was a sin, and he denied stirring racial hatred as British prosecutors wrapped up their case against him.

Abu Hamza al-Masri, 47, a one-eyed preacher accused of radicalizing his followers at the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, told jurors that racism was contrary to the Quran’s teaching.

``Racism is one of the greatest sins. I actually condemned it,″ al-Masri said. ``We have been told to hate it as wrong, even if it comes from our own fathers, we have to denounce it.″

The Egyptian-born al-Masri faces life in prison if convicted of inciting murder and stirring racial hatred in speeches recorded on nine video and audio tapes made for supporters. He has pleaded not guilty.

Al-Masri, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was a head preacher at the Finsbury Park mosque that has been linked to terrorist suspects including alleged Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and ``shoe bomber″ Richard Reid.

Al-Masri is wanted in the United States on an 11-count indictment from 2004 that charges him with conspiring to provide material support to the al-Qaida terror network by establishing a training camp in Oregon; conspiring to take hostages in Yemen and facilitating training in Afghanistan.

Under British law, the charges he faces in the United Kingdom take precedence over the U.S. case and he cannot be tried in the United States until a verdict has been reached.

Defense attorney Edward Fitzgerald said al-Masri had been demonized in the British media with repeated pictures of the one-eyed, hook-handed preacher under sensational headlines. The cleric says he lost his eye and hands fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Hamza is ``the most frequently ridiculed figure″ in the country, Fitzgerald said.

``Let me accept from the start that Mr. Hamza has said things that most people will find deeply offensive and distasteful,″ Fitzgerald said. ``But he is not on trial for describing England as a toilet.″

London Metropolitan Police Detective Keith Asman testified how police seized ``The Encyclopedia of the Afghani Jihad″ from al-Masri’s west London home. The book, an alleged terrorist manual, describes desirable terrorist targets, such as London’s Big Ben, and how to carry out assassinations.

In recordings that jurors listened to, prosecutors have said al-Masri encouraged followers to kill Jews and other non-Muslim. He also allegedly told followers that Jews ``control the West and must be removed from the Earth.″

Al-Masri also referred to Jews as ``blasphemous, traitors and dirty″ and said their behavior was ``why Hitler was sent into the world,″ prosecutors said.

The former preacher told the court he studied civil engineering in Egypt and trained in the army for three years. He came to England in July 1979 and years later married a British woman _ his second marriage _ with whom he had seven children.

Al-Masri said his father was the equivalent of a major in the Royal Navy and his mother was a school headmistress.

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