NEW YORK - An American Islamist told Thursday of how Osama bin Laden’s then deputy treated him for a cold with honey and seeds, as a New York trial heard intriguing new details of everyday life inside Al-Qaeda.
Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, credited with being the brains behind the extremist network, became as head of Al-Qaeda when Bin Laden was killed by US troops three years ago.
James Ujaama, 48, told the trial of British hate preacher Abu Hamza that he fell ill with a “very bad cold” while in Kabul in late 2000, a year before the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington “He treated me,” Ujaama told US prosecutor John Cronan, who flashed up a picture of the bearded Zawahiri. Ujaama said he didn’t know Zawahiri’s name or position at the time.
“He gave me some honey and black seed,” Ujaama told the Manhattan court where Abu Hamza is on trial for 11 kidnapping and terror charges. “He was very caring.”
Ujaama worked for Abu Hamza between 2000 and 2001, running the website of the cleric’s “Supporters of Sharia” organidation based in London.
He was jailed for six years in the United States on a terror conviction and has an agreement with the government requiring him to testify against Abu Hamza.
In 2000, he travelled to New York to raise money for Muslim families to move to Afghanistan, get web-development training and buy computer equipment.
Later that year, he travelled to Afghanistan via Pakistan, tasked by Abu Hamza with accompanying British recruit Feroz Abbasi, and doling out thousands of dollars to a girls’ school.
But Ujaama said he left Abbasi behind in Pakistan and travelled alone into Afghanistan after securing safe passage from the Taliban’s then-foreign minister.
He took 2,500 British pounds ($4,200 today) to a girls’ school in the city of Khost and 1,500 pounds split between three individuals, who included an explosives expert who had cared for Abu Hamza.
Blind in one eye, the British preacher had both arms blown off in an explosion in Afghanistan years ago.
Ujaama said he also installed computer software on Taliban computers in Kandahar.
He then oversaw the delivery by courier to Kabul of 6,000 British pounds, computers for the girls’ school, and jewelry for widows and children of mujahideen fighters, all sent by Abu Hamza, he said.
Abu Hamza was angry when he confessed to leaving Abbasi behind in Pakistan and ordered him to go back and get him, orders Ujaama said he ignored.
Ujaama said he was back in Pakistan when 9/11 happened and as a result could not travel on to Afghanistan to deliver more money to the school or help set up a computer centre for the Taliban.
In an email to Ujaama that was shown to the court, Abu Hamza praised the assassination of anti-Taliban warlord Ahmad Shah Massoud, killed by Al-Qaeda on September 9, 2001.
“Massoud died in a human bomb, and it is beneficial to all Muslims,” Abu Hamza wrote.
Ujaama said their organization’s website was shut down after the 9/11 attacks and that he could not get safe passage from the Taliban to travel into Afghanistan.
It was then that he fell out with Abu Hamza, he told the court. “I felt like he just did not care about anyone apart from himself,” Ujaama said.
Ujaama accused Abu Hamza of pressuring him to go Afghanistan or to give the money to some Arabs, when this could get him into serious trouble or get him killed.
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, 56, better known in Britain as Abu Hamza al-Masri, has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
He is accused of providing support to Al-Qaeda, of wanting to set up a computer lab for the Taliban and of sending recruits to Afghanistan for training.
He faces the rest of his life in a maximum security US prison if convicted.