Radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri concluded six days of testimony at his trial on Thursday by denying he had ever incited Muslims to kill civilians or encouraged racial hatred. During his testimony, the 47-year-old, Egyptian-born Muslim preacher claimed friends of Israel had hijacked British foreign policy, insisted his prosecution was politically motivated, and stated racism was a sin.
Al-Masri is on trial for multiple counts of inciting murder and stirring up racial hatred; he has pleaded innocent. He faces life in prison if found guilty.
At issue are a series of speeches that al-Masri, the former imam at London's Finsbury Park mosque, had made which were recorded on video and audio tapes for his supporters and played for the jurors in the trial. On them, prosecutors have asserted, al-Masri preached "murder and hatred" against non-Muslims.
During Thursday's court session, al-Masri was asked about a book found during a search of home by London police officers. Entitled the "Encyclopedia of Afghani Jihad," it contained a dedication to Osama bin Laden, and included a passage that suggested Big Ben and skyscrapers in London as potential targets for a terrorist attack. Prosecutors allege the book is a terrorism manual.
Al-Masri said that he had received the book as a gift and that he hadn't read it. Even if he had known about the dedication to the al-Qaida leader, at the time, bin Laden was not a wanted man.
"He was not required by anyone. The Sudanese government even offered him to America," al-Masri said. "They said, 'We have a person here.' They said, 'We do not need him.' He was only sought by the Americans after 1998."
Also on Thursday, al-Masri said he had been interviewed by London police officers about his sermons in 1999. He said subjects raised included "what provokes Muslims; what is so-called suicide bombing evidence; the ideals of Muslims; who comes to this country; what would be provoking them; freedom of speech and the limits."
During his days on the stand, al-Masri also said he would never advocate a terrorist attack on a civilian target, and told jurors that he had actually told his followers that racism was considered a sin by Islam, reports the AP.
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