NEW YORK — A prosecutor warned jurors at a terrorism trial Wednesday not to be fooled by an Egyptian-born imam’s calm demeanor on the witness stand as he defended himself against charges that he conspired to support al-Qaeda and to aid kidnappers in Yemen who took tourists hostage in 1998.
“He knows how to work a crowd,” Assistant US Attorney Ian McGinley said in closing arguments at the trial of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 55, who is charged with sending men to start an al-Qaeda training camp in Bly, Oregon, at the turn of the century and sending men to Afghanistan training camps. He also is charged with providing a satellite phone to the kidnappers in Yemen, where four hostages died.
Defense attorney Jeremy Schneider in his summation told jurors to put emotions about terrorism aside so they can realize the weakness of the government’s evidence, presented over the past month.
“The vast majority of the evidence is his words, not his deeds,” Schneider said, alluding to the numerous videotapes and audio tapes offered as evidence.
Schneider said he worried about the effects on jurors of the government’s mention of terrorism acts including the Sept. 11 attacks and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 that killed 17 American sailors.
“I have to really be worried not about the evidence here but your gut,” he said, adding that “getting you past the emotional stuff” was the defense’s biggest challenge.
“Can he get a fair trial in the shadow of the World Trade Center?” Schneider asked.
McGinley criticized Mustafa for his testimony during four days on the witness stand, calling things he said absurd, unbelievable and incredible.
He repeatedly showed the Manhattan jury video clips of Mustafa speaking loudly and emotionally to his followers while he led London’s Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s, when the mosque’s popularity among Islamic extremists attracted men, including Sept. 11, 2001 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.
“That man on that video was not the calm, accepting man who took that witness stand,” McGinley said after showing one clip. “He lied to you to sell a version of himself that contradicts everything else you’ve seen in this case.
“He said what he truly believed until it was time to be held accountable for his crimes,” the prosecutor said. “And then he changed his tune.”
McGinley called a taped interview one of the Yemen hostages had with Mustafa at his mosque about a year after the kidnappings “devastating evidence of the defendant’s guilt.” And he belittled Mustafa’s claims that when he said “we” in some of his taped statements, he was not referencing himself as well.
“He wants to suspend the rules of the language when he is on trial,” McGinley said. “He wants you to believe he was misunderstood, that his men were free agents, that it was everyone else’s fault.”
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.