The trial of the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri in a New York court on terror charges took a rather unexpected turn on Wednesday, when his lawyers told the court that he secretly worked for M15, Britain’s national intelligence and security agency.

A leading figure on the British Islamist scene, the Egypt-born cleric Abu Hamza, who was known for the hate sermons he would deliver at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, was arrested in 2004 by the U.K. police, convicted of stoking murder and racial hatred, and jailed for seven years in 2006. He was extradited to the United States after a protracted legal battle in 2012.

In the Manhattan federal court where his trial is being held, Abu Hamza said that he had been asked by M15 to “keep the streets of London safe”; in other words his job was to reign in more radical and violent Islamist elements.

Abu Hamza denied all 11 charges against him, which includes the kidnapping of 16 western tourists and the killing of four of them in Yemen in 1998.

Giving his background to the court, he said that he went from running a strip-bar in Soho “on the wrong side of morality” to a convert to Islam. He claimed to have been a member of the Royal Society of Engineers and to have worked at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst.

The judge refused to accept as evidence documents from Scotland Yard which his lawyers said would demonstrate how Abu Hamza had cooperated with the police to keep the peace and negotiate for the release of hostages.

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