Hook-handed terrorist suspect struggling in jail: Lawyers

NEW YORK (AFP) - Prison officials are hampering the one-eyed, handless British Islamist preacher extradited to the United States on terrorism charges from participating in his defence ahead of trial, lawyers said on Monday.

Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, better known in Britain as Abu Hamza Al-Masri, is already having day-to-day trouble in the high security wing of the Manhattan detention centre where he is being held because of his reliance on crude metal hooks instead of proper prosthetic hands, his defence team said.

But even stricter rules imposed in the last two weeks are also preventing court-appointed attorneys and the Egyptian-born leader of a mosque in north London from going through the mountains of evidence, lawyer Joshua Dratel told a Manhattan federal court.

"Mr Mustafa cannot participate in the process. He does not have a laptop.

He cannot participate in the digital discovery (of evidence). We can't print out hundreds and thousands of pages," Mr Dratel said, calling the new restrictions "a very, very serious problem."

Hamza has pleaded not guilty to 11 terrorism charges, including conspiring to set up an Al-Qaeda-style training camp in the United States. His trial is set to start on Aug 26.

However, his lawyers said on Monday they had no idea how they could prepare in time.

"I need to address the 700 pound gorilla in the room about the schedule," another attorney on the team, Mr Jeremy Schneider, told the court.

He said there were 47 boxes of evidence provided by the British authorities, including CDs with an unknown quantity of files, and that his team had been too busy even to begin looking at the documents.

"Even if we worked 23 hours a day from now until then we probably wouldn't get the work done," Mr Schneider said.

Judge Katherine Forrest gave short shrift to the lawyers, saying they needed to come up with specific complaints.

"Forty seven boxes is not that much," she said. "He's going to get a speedy and public trial. I'm not going right now to extend the schedule based on a nebulous understanding of volume (of evidence)."

Defence attorney Lindsay Lewis said Mustafa is also suffering because of the prison authorities' failure so far to make good on a pledge to equip him with real prosthetic hands.

"It's at a complete halt due to the cost issue and other administrative issues," Ms Lewis told reporters outside the court. Daily life, she said, "is very difficult for him."

Mustafa is allowed to use his hooks inside his cell, but not outside, including in the shower, where he must rely on his stumps.

"This need for various handicap accommodations at the MCC (jail) have been largely unaddressed," Ms Lewis said.

Mustafa, whose arms were blown off in an explosion many years ago, was famous for using the hooks during his spell as an anti-Western preacher in London. However, while spending years behind bars in Britain he was cared for on a daily basis by a nurse, Ms Lewis said.

The trial of Abu Hamza, who allegedly tried to establish a militant training camp in the northwestern US state of Oregon and abducted US and other tourists in Yemen, is expected to take six to eight weeks, prosecutors said.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.