NEW YORK — An Egyptian cleric defended the World Trade Center attacks in a broadcast interview, saying it left Muslims and non-Muslims around the world happy, according to a tape played for the jury at his terrorism trial on Monday.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa could be heard casually speaking of the attacks in the undated interview with a Canadian broadcaster, even equating what al-Qaida did to the hero in American movies.
“Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center,” Mustafa said in the interview. “Anybody who tell you he was not happy, they are hypocrites.”
He said the World Trade Center was a legitimate target because of its role in globalization.
“It’s the center of, of, of evil,” Mustafa said. “Political and financial evil for the whole world.”
The interview was played after U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest last week turned down a request by defense lawyers to exclude it from trial on the grounds that it would unfairly prejudice their client.
“Expressing clear and unequivocal support for terrorism is no doubt prejudicial,” the judge said. “However, the defendant is charged with just those sorts of crimes.”
Mustafa has pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to support al-Qaida by trying to set up a terrorist training camp in 1999 in Oregon. He also is accused of helping to abduct two American tourists and 14 others in Yemen in 1998. Four hostages died.
The tape was played during the testimony of a terrorism investigator for the prosecutor’s office in Manhattan.
“This is what you teach your people in cowboy films when you see the aggressors being, doing bad things, and then the hero comes and gives him a couple of punches in his face,” Mustafa said during the interview. “That’s exactly like this. So I would be hypocrite if I tell you no. All Muslims are happy, even non-Muslims are happy.”
According to the taped interview, Mustafa said it was right to use airplanes against those who use planes to “oppress nations and kill them and maim them.”
He added: “What do you call this when you go and bombard people and kill them by thousands just because you have ability to fly higher?”
In the interview, Mustafa also said he agreed with the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. The attack killed 17 American sailors.
Mustafa plans to testify at the trial, which is expected to last about a month.
He was extradited in 2012 from England, where he turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.