Page last updated at 22:50 GMT, Friday, 20 January 2006

Abu Hamza outlines his defence

By Dominic Casciani
BBC News at the Old Bailey

Abu Hamza (Image by court artist Elizabeth Cook/PA)
Day two saw Abu Hamza interrupted by his counsel

Day two of Abu Hamza al-Masri giving evidence at the Old Bailey - and Court Two heard a complex account of his justification for violence against enemies of Islam - and why this did not mean he believed in attacks in Britain, or against Jews.

Abu Hamza denies 15 charges, including soliciting to murder. He says the case against him relies upon misunderstandings of his sermons, misunderstandings of Islam and, critically, what he believes to be justifiable circumstances when bloodshed would be necessary.

Abu Hamza's defence is complex and throughout the second day of his testimony he was frequently interrupted by his own counsel, Edward Fitzgerald QC, or Judge Anthony Hughes to clarify what he was saying, in particular interpretations of Islamic law.

According to the former preacher at London's Finsbury Park mosque, there is "a time for prayer and a time for fighting" - because Islam, like other religions, recognises circumstances when one or the other may be required to defend the faithful.

If the war starts, then the consequence of war is that your blood and someone else's blood will be spilt
Abu Hamza

So the question is what was he telling his audiences to do in the various sermons at the centre of the case? Was he urging them to fight?

No, he said, he was urging them to discover for themselves the circumstances of oppression in lands such as Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and Kosovo - and do what they felt was appropriate to solve the oppression.

So why in one sermon had he called for the use of mouse poison or kitchen knives, because greater weapons were not available? Was he saying go commit murder with these tools, asked Mr Fitzgerald.

"No I am giving examples [of scenarios]. The results are always in the hands of God. God judges according to our intention and effort, not our resources. Use whatever resources are available, no matter how insignificant [to achieve God's aims]. It's metaphorical, do what you can."

So how did these rules apply to suicide bombing? Abu Hamza said his answer needed some consideration: It was not the suicide that "worried" him, but whether the bombing was justifiable.

Was a suicide bombing any worse than an Apache helicopter attacking homes in Afghanistan, he mused. Was suicide bombing an appropriate reaction to Israeli tanks and bulldozers?

"If it [suicide bombing] is the only way to stop the enemies of Islam, or to resist oppression, then it would be a tactic of war."

'Rouse consciences'

Killing children or women was wrong, but beyond that, suicide bombings were "not a tragedy...just a normal tactic of war."

Throughout all his speeches and sermons, said the cleric, his aim had been to rouse the conscience of his audience to come to the aid of Muslims lands.

"People should go where they see difficulties," he said. "But do not decide what to do before you go there. People should give whatever help that they can."

In this context, he said, a military solution was valid if it could end bloodshed, in the same way that a humanitarian solution was valid to feed the needy.

He had once supported the radical Algerian GIA, an Islamist group that had fought the government there. When women and children were massacred amid a spiral of chaos, he had publicly denounced it, the court heard.

He had never urged the indiscriminate and racially-motivated harming of Serbs or Jews, he said, only the defence of Muslim people in specific circumstances.

Focus on encyclopaedia

"If the war starts, then the consequence of war is that your blood and someone else's blood will be spilt.

"But that [Muslim] blood is not in vain. Most of the reward in Islam is when people sacrifice their time, sacrifice their money or sacrifice their blood. That blood shows the loyalty of a person to his lord, something Muslims know very well."

So why did he spend so much time in his sermons denouncing Jews?

"To hate Jews as a race, no," he said. "To hate as a religion, no. To hate as a colour, no. But hate the wrong, to that action [Muslims should turn]."

One of the key parts of the case against Abu Hamza is that he had an 11-volume "Encyclopaedia of Afghan Jihad". According to the Crown, these weighty volumes contain elaborate instructions for terrorism, including listing Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower as potential targets. Was this his intention, to attack national icons?

"The first time I became aware of this was in this court," Mr Hamza said.

"Would you approve of such an attack on Big Ben?" asked his counsel, Edward Fitzgerald QC.

"For what purpose? Never."

According to Mr Hamza, he was given the encyclopaedia by a Birmingham bookseller as a gift for good business. But he insisted he had barely opened it, never mind actually read its detailed instructions.

"People have seen the encyclopaedia. It's in very good condition. It's not been opened. It was seized in 1999 [when he was questioned by police] and then given back to me. It was seized again in 2004. The only time that it was opened was by the security services."

So what was his reaction to learn in 2004 that he was being charged in relation to the contents of the volumes, asked his counsel.

"If I had not been in prison, I would have laughed," he said.

The case continues.

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