The trial of Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Islamic fundamentalist preacher charged with supporting terrorist groups, is set to begin next week in New York amid fears of a terrorist attack and concern that testimony from a key witness may not be allowed.
Al-Masri, 55, is charged with conspiring in a 1998 kidnapping of tourists, including Americans, in Yemen, in which three Britons and one Australian were killed.
Having asked the court to address him by the name of Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, Al-Masri is also charged with conspiring to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon and organising support for the Taliban and their terrorist associates in Afghanistan while at a mosque in Britain.
The Egyptian-born cleric, who was a naturalised Briton, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges in a New York City courtroom in October 2012, shortly after he was extradited from Britain.
With the trial set to begin on Monday, the New York Police Department (NYPD) has been on high alert for any potential terror attacks in reaction to the trial.
Rebecca Weiner, director of intelligence analysis for the NYPD, said that the police were “attuned to the possibility that his upcoming trial may inspire more” terror.
“It is a major priority for us in the next couple of weeks,” she said earlier this month, according to the Daily News.
NYDP’s caution has likely stemmed from other terror attacks inspired by al-Masri’s past sermons against the West.
For example, after killing a British soldier in May 2013, Michael Adebolajo asked the court to address him as Majahid Abu Hamza, a title he chose to honour al-Masri.
Al-Masri, who lost parts of both arms and one eye while fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan in 1980s, has praised al-Qaeda’s late leader Osama bin Laden and the September 2001 attacks.
Last year lawyers for the disabled preacher criticised officials at his lower Manhattan maximum-security jail for imposing special measures on al-Masri, including not allowing him access to his prosthetic hook.
Such measures, which also restrict his communication with the outside world, are used when there is a “substantial risk” that an inmate’s communication “could result in death or serious bodily injury,” the New York Times reported.
Meanwhile, less than two weeks before the trial, Judge Katherine Forrest asked that a key witness appear in person at the trial.
The witness, Saajid Badat, is under US indictment for a 2001 plot to blow up airliners with shoe-bombs, a crime for which he was convicted in Britain.
Badat was arrested in Britain in 2003, and served only six years in jail after agreeing to cooperate with Scotland Yard.
If allowed to appear via closed-circuit television from Britain, Badat is expected to testify that al-Masri had ordered him to travel to Afghanistan in 2001 and take part in jihadi training.