Abu Hamza last night told a jury that he converted to Islam after being appalled by what he saw whilst running a strip club in London in the 1980s.
The hate cleric that he was co-manager of the seedy establishment in Soho and that it was the ‘wrong sort of morality’ which he came to detest.
Earlier the court also heard that Hamza was secretly working with MI5 and Scotland Yard so he could supposedly help ‘keep the streets of London safe’.
The former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque was in ‘constant dialogue’ with British intelligence services to try to police the Muslim community by ‘cooling hotheads’, his defence lawyer claimed.
Hamza was giving evidence for the first time during his terrorism trial in New York that could see him jail for life if convicted.
Hamza, who was born in Egypt, became a resident of the UK in 1982 and in 1986 obtained British citizenship after marrying his first wife Nadjet.
He said that in the beginning of his life in London he wanted to ‘make money and enjoy myself’ so he got a job as a nightclub bouncer, then co-managed a strip club in Soho.
It was at the end of 1982 when his first wife wanted to spend more time with him so at the suggestion of their Egyptian friends, she started hassling him to join her.
Hamza said he thought it was ‘too early’ and would be something he would do later in his life but caved in because she was ‘persistent’ - and his values began to change.
Hamza said: “There came a time when I said enough is enough. I had enough money. I took Ramadan off from the club then I enjoyed it.”
Earlier the court heard claims from Hamza’s lawyer Joshua Dratel that he worked as an ‘intermediary’ for three years between 1997 and 2000 for MI5 and Scotland Yard.
Mr Dratel said that Hamza used to be called up to work his Islamist contacts to help with the release of hostages as a sort of consultant peacekeeper for the Muslim world.
The relationship was so cosy that he had been given 50 pages of notes by the UK authorities covering Hamza’s meetings with them.
Mr Dratel claimed it was ‘critical’ for the jury to understand this as it explained Hamza’s motivation in dealing with otherwise unsavoury characters.
Hamza has long claimed that MI5 approved his preaching and gave him tacit permission to continue until 2000 when an arrest warrant was issued for him by the US authorities.
However in a huge blow to the defence, District Judge Katherine Forrest ruled that Hamza will not be allowed to discuss his activities to MI5 or Scotland Yard.
His lawyers said they would appeal and legal argument is likely to take place today.
During his testimony Hamza sought to portray himself as a devout and humble Muslim and not the firebrand cleric who was jailed in Britain for six years for inciting murder then extradited to the US in 2012.
He spoke in a low voice, revealed he had written nine books and admitted that his English that he spoke with a heavy Egyptian accent was ‘not eloquent’.
He also told the jury that contrary to what they might think he had always been ‘pro Western’.
He said that he moved to Britain from his home in Alexandria in Egypt where he had long ‘looked forward to the Western life, American style’.
Whilst studying engineering at Brunel and Brighton universities he said that he researched the World Trade Centre buildings and the effect that ‘sudden impacts or explosions’ might have on them.
Hamza, who also studied demolition techniques, said: “This had a big impact on my life afterwards.”
For all his attempts to make himself seem reserved, there were flashes of the old Hamza who once bragged that the September 11 2011 attacks made him ‘happy’.
He told the court that it was OK under certain conditions for Muslims to lie to non-Muslims and that he would put his belief in Islam above everything.
He said: “I am no stranger to prison.
“If my freedom comes at the expense of my integrity and my belief I don’t want it.”
Hamza is accused of facilitating violent jihad in Afghanistan and trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon.
He is also accused of helping in a hostage taking in Yemen in 1998 that ended in a bloodbath that left three Britons and an Australian dead.
Hamza, 56, who only has one eye and has had both his hands partially amputated, has denied all the charges.