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NEW YORK (AP) — An Egyptian Islamic preacher's statements that "everybody was happy" when the World Trade Center was hit by airplanes can be heard by a jury sitting just blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks, a judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Katherine B. Forrest issued a written decision narrowing the evidence that can be presented against Mustafa Kamel Mustafa two days before opening statements were scheduled to start in the cleric's trial on charges he conspired to support al-Qaida.
Forrest rejected the introduction of several statements that she found cumulative or insufficiently relevant to the charges. But she allowed the majority of the government's proposed videos, audios and written statements.
Mustafa has pleaded not guilty. He is accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp in 1999 in Oregon and by arranging for others to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. He also is accused of ensuring there was satellite phone service for hostage-takers who abducted two American tourists and 14 others in Yemen in 1998. Four hostages died.
Forrest rejected defense claims that statements he made in an undated interview with a British television service were unduly prejudicial, including his assertion that he approves of using airplanes to kill, saying: "Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center."
The judge said he was also quoted as saying: "Anybody who tell (sic) you he was not happy, they are hypocrites, for the Muslim Nation."
She said he then justified targeting the World Trade Center because of the evils of globalization and "making other countries poor."
Forrest said his statement "fundamentally justifies fighting and terrorist acts in the name of furthering a political agenda" and is "plainly relevant" to his motive to engage in acts with which he is charged. The judge noted that Mustafa has told her he plans to testify and will mention some of the subjects that defense lawyers said were inflammatory.
A defense lawyer did not immediately return a message seeking comment Tuesday.
Forrest said Mustafa's British television interview also included a defense of the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Aden harbor in Yemen, where 17 American sailors were killed.
When asked whether he approved of the Cole attack, Mustafa responded: "Of course. I agree with it," saying it was a justified response to an act of occupation and humiliation, the judge said.
Forrest also said the jury can hear statements in which Mustafa justifies terrorism as well as statements he made in 2002 supporting bin Laden and acknowledging that he views him as a hero.
"Expressing clear and unequivocal support for terrorism is no doubt prejudicial. However, the defendant is charged with just those sorts of crimes," she said.
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