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Trial of Extremist Cleric Abu Hamza Begins in New York

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Abu Hamza, the radical cleric best known for his hooked hand and incendiary speeches will stand trial in the US after an 8 year legal battle. He is due to stand trial in New York for a variety of charges including attempting to set up an al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon, along with 10 other terrorism offences.

His trial begins today with jury selection. At the height of his influence he was regarded as one of the most important figures in the global Islamist movement operating in the West. It is widely accepted that he inspired at least one of the 9/11 hijackers as well as the shoe bomber Richard Reid.

He will be tried at a Manhattan federal court by Judge Katherine Forrest. He has decided to represent himself, against the advice of his lawyers. It is expected that he will speak about Osama bin Laden and 9/11 in his defense.

At a pre-trial hearing he told judges "I think I am innocent. I need to go through it, have a chance to defend myself."

Despite earlier brushes with the law and heavy involvement in Islamism, he first rose to prominence after 9/11 as the preacher in London's now infamous Finsbury Park Mosque, where he arrived in 1997. At the first anniversary of 9/11 he gave a passionate speech praising the hijackers.

After police raided the mosque and sealed it in 2003 after suspected involvement in a ricin attack, he continued to give sermons outside the gates. This continued until 2004 when he was arrested by British authorities after an extradition order was put out by the U.S..

He has been in prison in the UK for seven years for incitement to murder and race-hate. He was extradited in 2012. His lawyers claimed that extradition to the U.S. would prejudice his human rights, and said the evidence obtained against him was acquired under torture. This was found to be false.

If convicted, as seems very likely, he is facing a life sentence. 

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