New York jail sees Abu Hamza`s fake arms as weapons

Abu Hamza al-Masri, 54, widely known by the name Abu Hamza al-Masri, was extradited to the US from Britain in early October.

Updated: Oct 14, 2012, 09:56 AM IST

New York: Every night, while an Egyptian Islamic preacher awaits trial on terrorism charges, jailers confiscate items he carries with him during the day that they consider to be weapons his prosthetic arms, including one with a metal hook.

It`s a security precaution that comes with a price. For Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, it means being left for hours helpless to perform tasks others take for granted, such as dressing or eating.

For taxpayers, it means paying more than USD 15,000 to outfit Mustafa with a new set of prosthetic arms with rounded fingers that can`t be used as weapons.

Mustafa, 54, widely known by the name Abu Hamza al-Masri, was extradited to the US from Britain in early October. He faces charges of conspiring with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.

He`s also accused of helping abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998. He has pleaded not guilty.

Jeremy Schneider, the lawyer who represented Mustafa when he pleaded not guilty to the charges this past week, complained outside court that the daily removal of his client`s arms is a problem.

"He has use of them for a certain part of the day but not long enough to allow him to function the way he should function," Schneider said. "As you can well imagine, he`s not happy he`s in a situation like this."

It`s unclear how Mustafa copes during the times he`s without his fake limbs. He has appeared in court handless and helpless, the rounded ends of his arms both cut off shortly after the elbows in plain sight.

Safety is the top priority, officials at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center say. One terrorism defendant being held in the same lower Manhattan lockup used a sharpened comb to poke out a guard`s eye in an ill-fated escape attempt in 2000.

Authorities cite reports of people inside prisons and outside using prosthetics in vicious attacks. In January, an inmate in an upstate New York prison accused a fellow prisoner of assaulting him with a prosthetic arm, later telling guards it felt like being hit with a steel baseball bat. And in June, an Arkansas man was accused of using a fake arm and a rock to beat another man to death.

Traci Billingsley, a US Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, said she could not provide specific information about individual inmates but "if an inmate arrives at any of our facilities with a prosthetic that we believe could pose a danger, it would not be permitted inside."