Fri, Jan 13, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Firebrand cleric's trial starts in UK

AP , LONDON

Radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri preached "murder and hatred" against non-Muslims while imam of London's Finsbury Park mosque, a prosecutor said at the start of the firebrand preacher's trial.

Britain's best-known Islamist orator faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of inciting murder and stirring racial hatred in speeches recorded on nine video and audio tapes made for supporters.

"The prosecution case, in a sentence, is that the defendant, Sheikh Abu Hamza, was preaching murder and hatred in these talks," prosecutor David Perry told a jury at London's Central Criminal Court on Wednesday.

The Egyptian-born cleric -- who says he lost his eye and hands while fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan -- was head preacher at the Finsbury mosque from the late 1990s until 2003, when he was ousted by the community's leaders.

The north London center has been linked to several terrorist suspects, including alleged Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and "shoe bomber'' Richard Reid.

In speeches delivered at the mosque and elsewhere, the cleric referred to Jews as "blasphemous, traitors and dirty" and said their behavior was "why Hitler was sent into the world," Perry said.

Al-Masri, 47, has pleaded innocent to the charges.

In a statement issued through his lawyer after his 2004 arrest, al-Masri said his religious speeches "have been taken out of context."

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