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Islamic cleric testifies he wanted to aid hostages

  • Associated Press
  • May 12, 2014 - 4:05 PM

NEW YORK — A former London imam told a jury Monday that he tried to help hostages in Yemen in 1998 by urging their captors to let them telephone embassies and their families.

Mustafa Kamel Mustafa testified for a third day in Manhattan federal court. He has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to support terrorism by helping the hostage takers, by later trying to create a training camp in Oregon and by arranging for men to attend al-Qaida training camps in Afghanistan. If convicted, he would likely face life in prison.

The 55-year-old Mustafa has said he supplied a satellite phone to the men but was angry when he learned they had taken 16 people hostage.

"I felt betrayed," he said, recalling a conversation he had while he was in London. "I was a bit angry."

He said one of the hostage takers tried to calm him.

"He said: 'Don't panic. These things happen every day in Yemen,'" he recalled of one of his conversations with the kidnappers. He said his offer to go to Yemen and negotiate was refused.

Mustafa said he had urged the captors to let the hostages call their embassies and families and tell them: "We are good. We are looked after."

He added: "I tried to explain to him these people can be your mouthpiece."

He said he worried that the Yemen government would "act stupidly" and cause deaths. Four hostages died.

Yemen military troops rescued the European tourists about 24 hours after they were first overrun as their vehicles traveled between cities in late December 1998.

In his conversations with hostage takers, Mustafa said, he promised to pay for extra minutes on the satellite phone and charged $500 on a credit card to do so.

After the hostage taking ended, he reported that the satellite phone had been stolen and tried unsuccessfully to get the money back.

Two of the ex-hostages testified last week, including a woman who recorded an interview with Mustafa at his mosque as she worked on a book about her ordeal.

Mustafa was extradited in 2012 from England, where he turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Before defense lawyer Joshua Dratel completed his questioning of his client Monday, he asked Mustafa again if he had conspired to do any of the things that prosecutors have said he did. As he had at the outset of his testimony last Wednesday, he denied doing so.

Prosecutors were to begin cross examination on Tuesday, with closings likely to follow Wednesday.

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