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Terror suspect’s prostheses create dilemma for jailers

Sun., Oct. 14, 2012

This courtroom drawing shows accused terrorist Mustafa Kamel Mustafa without his prosthetic arms in court in New York on Tuesday. (Associated Press)
This courtroom drawing shows accused terrorist Mustafa Kamel Mustafa without his prosthetic arms in court in New York on Tuesday. (Associated Press)

Mustafa has been forced to give up his arms

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 with tasks others take for granted, such as dressing or eating. For taxpayers, it means paying more than $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 U.S. 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 in court 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 Metropolitan Correctional Center say.

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 U.S. 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.”

Similarly, the U.S. Marshals Service, which transports Mustafa to and from court, does not allow him to wear the hook while in their custody.

Billingsley said inmates with prosthetics are medically evaluated to determine whether other accommodations or devices would be appropriate. Mustafa is expected to be outfitted with a new prosthetic in the shape of a hand to replace his hook hand at taxpayers’ expense.

Such modern prosthetic hands can range in price from $15,000 to $100,000, said John N. Billock, head of the Orthotics & Prosthetics Rehabilitation Engineering Centre in Warren, Ohio.

Mustafa, who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s, lost his arms to explosives. He is also missing an eye.

Mustafa became well-known in the 1990s as his Finsbury Park Mosque in London became a training ground for extremist Islamists, including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and attempted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid. He had been jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges.


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