Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, alleged leader of 12 Hanafi Muslims on trial for murder and kidnaping, testified yesterday that his men took over the District Building last March because of "the insensitivity" of city officials to "the slaughter" of seven members of his family in 1973.
He also told a D.C. Superior Court jury that he and six followers seized the international headquarters of B'nai B'rith, the Jewish service organization, to stop the showing of a movie that was "mocking of God" and because of a "zionist-Jew" conspiracy to destroy the world.
For the same reason, he said, other Hanafis took over the Islamic Center at 2551 Massachusetts Ave. NW. The action at all three sites - which involved the taking of 149 hostages - took place March 9 to March 11.
"I'd die for the prophet today, right now, on the stand, it doesn't matter," Khaalis testified.
He said the showing the film, "Mohammad, Messenger of God," was the second time he had had to consider "defending the faith." The first was in connection with the musical production, "Jesus Christ, Superstar."
"Jesus is our prophet, too," he said. "The Christian brothers did nothing about 'Jesus Christ, Superstar.' There was dancing (in the production) and all types of gays playing roles of pious souls."
As for "Mohammad, Messenger of God," Kaalis said: "When you mock the prophets - and this is a major one, like Jesus and Moses - you bring a plague on the country. I knew it would bring some kind of grief and affliction on the land. You can look at the country today - 15 areas with no rain."
But his testimony - which came as the trial entered its seventh week and neared its climax - left it unclear whether the actions at the three buildings all were parts of a single conspiracy, as the government contends.
Prosecutors are expected to puruse this question when Khaalis, 55, resumes the witness stand today for cross examination.
It is a question that is crucial to the government's charges that all 12 Hanafis are responsible for the murder of Maurice Williams, a 24-year-old radio reporter who was cut down by a shotgun blast in the opening moments of the District Building takeover. The murder charges against all 12 depend on the government's proving that all 12 were acting in pursuance of a single plan.
Attorney's for Khaalis' condefendants also are expected to pursue this question, even though they received new warnings from their clients yesterday not to test their leader's testimony by cross examination.
John Treanor, the court-appointed attorney for Abdul Razzaaq, 23, also known as Nelson McQueen Jr. and as Norman Lee, asked Judge Nicholas S. Nunzio, who is presiding, to be excused from further participation in the case.
"I am now in the position of having, as a lawyer, to ask two or three questions of Mr. Khaalis to fulfill my duty," Treanor said. "But I am told by my client not to ask those questions."
Nunzio denied the request. "Do the best you can," he said.
John Sansing, the court-appointed attorney for Abdul Nuh, 28, also known as Mark E. Gibson, one of the two defendants said to have taken a direct part in events at the District Building, then rose and asked for a private conference with the judge with all attorneys in the case. He indicated that his concerns were similar to those of Treanor.
Officials said they were uncertain what the other defendants may do when Khaalis begins to undergo cross examination today. All defendants have flatly opposed any efforts by their attorneys to separate them from the crimes with which all are charged.
The initial cross examination will be by the prosecution. But as is the case in trials in which several defendants are standing trial together, defense attorneys for clients other than Khaalis are permitted to question that defendant if they believe that his testimony is harmful to their clients.
The session yesterday began with all attorneys moving for acquittal on all counts. The chief contention of the lawyers is that the District Building was no part of a plot, and that Abdul Nuh and Abdul Muzikir, 22, also known at Marquette Anthony Hall, went there on their own after hearing about the takeovers of the B'nai B'rith headquarters and the Islamic Center. Then, according to the defense, Khaalis "coopted" their action into his own activities.
The motions for acquittal followed the formal announcement by the government that it had finished presenting its evidence. Judge Nunzio denied the motions.
Harry T. Alexander, the former Superior Court judge whom Khaalis hired to defend him, then rose to make his opening statement.
He asked the jury to keep in mind testimony about two religions - Judaism and Islam. He said he and his client would offer evidence "in order to prove that there has been no criminal intent" on the part of any of the defendants.
He was interrupted six times in 12 minutes by objections by Assistant U.S. Attorney Martin J. Linsky, one of the two prosecutors, or by Nunzio. The reason for the objections was that Alexander was arguing his case rather than telling the jury what he intended to prove, which is the sole function of opening arguments.
Alexander then called the person he wanted as his first witness. Metropolitan Police Chief Maurice J. Culliance. Linsky promptly asked for a conference with Alexander and Nunzio at the bench. Following this, Nunzio said:
"Your next witness, sir."
"Det. Sgt. (Robert) Sharkey," said Alexander.
There followed a second bench conference. At the close of it, Nunzio ordered the jury taken from the courtroom. Then he said to Alexander:
"May I suggest, sir, that you talk to the other attorneys as to the relevance of the testimony you propose."
He then called a 10-minute recess so that Alexander could decide whether Khaalis should take the stand.