NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of a Lebanese-born Swedish man accused of helping set up a militant training camp in rural Oregon and operating websites showing how to assemble bombs.
Oussama Abdullah Kassir, 43, who was extradited from the Czech Republic to New York in 2007, faces multiple charges, including supporting terrorism and al Qaeda, by attempting to set up the camp in Bly, Oregon from 1999 to early 2000.
Prosecutors say Kassir and two others involved in the case were followers of Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Masri, a one-armed Muslim cleric who is serving a seven-year sentence in Britain for inciting his followers to murder nonbelievers.
James Ujaama, a former community activist in Seattle, has pleaded guilty to trying to help al Qaeda militants and may testify at the trial in Manhattan federal court as part of a plea agreement.
The other suspect in the case, Haroon Rashid Aswat, one of Masri’s chief aides, is appealing against extradition to the United States.
Prosecutors say in late 1999 Kassir and Aswat flew from London to New York and then travelled to Oregon to assess the suitability of a property for the camp.
Once there Kassir set up security patrols, helped distribute CD-ROMs with instructions on how to make bombs and poison, and offered instructions in hand-to-hand combat, including how to slit a person’s throat with a knife, the indictment said. The camp was never established.
From December 2001 until 2005, Kassir operated at least three websites that contained manuals such as “The Mujahideen Explosives Handbook” and “The Mujahideen Poisons Handbook,” according to the indictment.
Kassir has pleaded not guilty to the charges. In a 2007 hearing he described the case as “unjust” and “unfair” and said he has “nothing to do with al Qaeda.”
Jury selection could take a week with opening arguments in the case likely next week.
Kassir, who was born in Lebanon but became a Swedish citizen in 1989, was arrested in Prague in 2005 during a layover while travelling from Stockholm to Beirut. Aswat, a British citizen, was arrested in Zambia.
Al-Masri, who also faces charges for helping plot the capture of 16 western hostages in Yemen in 1998, won an interim order in 2008 from the European Court of Human Rights blocking his extradition to the United States.
Al-Masri and Aswat’s extradition appeals are pending before the court.
Editing by Claudia Parsons
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