By Tina Susman
On a ranch in rural Oregon, a radical Muslim holding a dagger with a curved blade yanked back the head of a kneeling young man and brought the metal to his neck.
"He said he was going to show us how to properly slice someone's throat," the kneeling man's sister testified Thursday as prosecutors began presenting their case against an Egyptian-born imam known as Abu Hamza Masri, the latest terrorism case to unfold in a New York federal court.
Masri, who also goes by Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was not the man holding the knife, but a government indictment alleges that he sent the knife-wielding man from London to Oregon to establish a terrorist training camp.
It is one of 11 charges against Abu Hamza Masri, a naturalized British citizen who gained fame for his radical sermons in London's Finsbury Park mosque and who was extradited to the United States in October 2012.
The defendant, who says he lost both arms fighting in Afghanistan, faces life in prison if convicted on the most serious charges of hostage-taking and conspiracy to take hostages, stemming from the December 1998 abduction of 16 tourists in Yemen.
Other charges include providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to support terrorists by sending men and money to set up the camp outside Bly, Ore., a remote hamlet about 300 miles southeast of Portland.
Masri, 55, pleaded not guilty, and in opening statements Thursday, defense attorney Joshua Lewis Dratel said Masri was being prosecuted not for his actions but for voicing controversial opinions.
"He wasn't in Yemen, wasn't in Oregon, never harmed Americans or anyone else," Dratel said as Masri sat quietly, his short-sleeved tunic revealing arms cut off just below the elbows.
"He's said a lot of harsh things ... anti-U.S., anti-Israel, anti-West," Dratel said. "These are views, not acts. This is expression, not crimes."
The arguments are similar to those of the defense in the trial of Sulaiman abu Ghaith, a former Al Qaeda spokesman who stood trial in the same courthouse earlier this year on charges of conspiring to kill Americans and other terrorism charges.
Abu Ghaith's lawyer argued that his client's speeches were controversial and sometimes "dumb" but did not prove he knew of any terrorist plots. A jury convicted Abu Ghaith.
Unlike Abu Ghaith, whose case evolved from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Masri is charged with actions that occurred in the late 1990s.
Dratel reminded jurors of this and warned them to not be swayed by the city's elevated anxiety about terrorism since September 2001. He said that with the passage of time, opinions of what constituted radical or terrorist behavior changed.
"For decades, Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist," Dratel said of the late South African president. "Now, he's an icon."
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