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Handless cleric awaiting terror trial in New York gets prosthetics

Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, is seen addressing the sixth annual rally for Islam in Trafalgar Square, London in this August 25, 2002 f
Muslim cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, is seen addressing the sixth annual rally for Islam in Trafalgar Square, London in this August 25, 2002 f

By Bernard Vaughan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The jail holding Abu Hamza al-Masri, the handless Islamic cleric awaiting trial on U.S. terrorism charges, provided him with a new set of prosthetics on Friday, officials said at a hearing on Friday.

His attorneys had been asking for the new limbs for months, after authorities refused to allow him to wear his usual metal hooks outside of his jail cell.

Britain extradited al-Masri last October. The United States accuses him of providing material support to the al Qaeda network by trying to set up a training camp in Oregon, among other charges.

Al-Masri is being held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center next door to the courthouse in lower Manhattan. The Egyptian-born, white-haired preacher appeared in court on Friday without any prosthetics.

Adam Johnson, an official with the MCC, told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest that the jail will also bring in an occupational therapist to teach al-Masri how to hold things with the new prosthetics "almost in a chopsticks style."

In trying them out earlier on Friday, al-Masri struggled to get used to the limbs' plastic grips, said Lindsay Lewis, one of his attorneys.

In another accommodation, al-Masri, who is also missing an eye, will have access to a laptop computer to review evidence in his cell, Forrest said Friday. Forrest said the accommodation is being made in part because much of the evidence is in Arabic.

"I must say that this is the first time that I have seen such a thing," Forrest said of the accommodation.

Al-Masri will have access to the computer at all times except for when it is charging, Lewis said after the hearing. It does not have Internet access, she said.

Al-Masri will also be able to speak with his family by telephone on March 18, Forrest said. Lewis said after the hearing that he is only allowed to speak to his immediate family.

Although pleased with the accommodations, Lewis told Forrest that al-Masri still had other needs, including a change of sheets more often. After the hearing, Lewis explained he needs a daily change of bedding because of a medical condition. Most inmates at the MCC get clean sheets once a week, she said.

Forrest said that, while she understood Lewis's concerns, they did not rise to a possible violation of al-Masri's constitutional rights, as Lewis suggested.

"It's also not a motel," Forrest said. "So you don't get clean sheets ... on demand."

Al-Masri, who has asked to be referred to in court by his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, has pleaded not guilty to 11 criminal charges. His trial was recently pushed back to March 31, 2014, at the request of his attorneys, who cited voluminous evidence they need to sort through.

"It really took this conference in order to get the MCC and the Bureau of Prisons to truly take these requests we've been making seriously," Lewis said after the hearing.

(Reporting By Bernard Vaughan. Editing by Andre Grenon)

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