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Officials Gave OK for Sermons, Cleric Says

January 20, 2006|From Associated Press

LONDON — A radical cleric charged with inciting the killing of Jews and other non-Muslims testified Thursday that British security officials had told him his sermons did not break the law.

Abu Hamza al Masri, 47, former leader of a mosque attended by alleged Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, said he met several times with British security officials from 1997 to 2000, the period during which prosecutors say he committed the crimes.

"I asked them, 'Is my sermon a problem?' They said: 'You have freedom of speech. You don't have to worry as long as we don't see blood in the streets,' " said Masri, who has no hands and one eye. He has said he was disabled while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s but testified under oath Thursday that he was actually injured in an accident a decade later.

Masri was the first defense witness after a four-day prosecution case that included recordings of him telling followers that Jews "control the West and must be removed from the Earth."

The prosecution did not explore Masri's alleged contacts with British security.

Masri faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of inciting murder and stirring racial hatred in speeches.

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