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Abu Hamza found guilty of terrorism in US court

Judge Katherine Forrest looks on as Abu Hamza, centre, replies to questions from his defence lawyer. Picture: Reuters

Judge Katherine Forrest looks on as Abu Hamza, centre, replies to questions from his defence lawyer. Picture: Reuters

AN Egyptian Islamic preacher brought to the United States on charges that he supported terrorism around the world from a London mosque has been found guilty.

Jurors in federal court in New York City returned their verdict Monday in the case against Abu Hamza.

The verdict came only weeks after another preacher, who served as al-Qaida’s spokesman immediately after the September 11 attacks, was convicted.

Prosecutors cited speeches and taped interviews to show that Hamza - tried under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa - conspired to aid terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida.

Prosecutors say he aided kidnappers of 16 tourists in Yemen in 1998 and tried to build an al-Qaida training camp in Oregon in 1999.

Hamza insisted during testimony that he never supported terrorism.

US Attorney General Eric Holder described the verdict as “a triumph”.

Hamza, 55, was accused of providing material support to terrorist groups by enabling hostage takers in the Yemen kidnapping to speak on a satellite phone, by sending men to establish an al-Qaida training camp in Bly, Oregon, and by sending at least one man to training camps in Afghanistan.

He was extradited in 2012 from the UK, where he led London’s Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s, reportedly attended by both September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid. Hamza denied ever having met them.

Hamza looked straight ahead as the verdict was read out at the federal court in Manhattan.

For much of the past month, jurors watched videotapes and heard audio clips in which Hamza shouted to his followers, telling them non-Muslims could be treated like animals and women and children who were not Muslim could be taken captive.

But they saw a gentler version of Hamza on the witness stand, one who spoke confidently in the tone of a college professor as he insisted he did not engage in acts of terrorism, nor did he aid al-Qaida.

His testimony over four days was derided by Assistant US Attorney Ian McGinley, who told jurors to ignore his lies and concentrate on evidence.

In his closing argument, Mr McGinley read aloud the names of four European tourists who died in 1998 in Yemen after their convoy of cars was overtaken by extremist Islamic kidnappers whom Hamza had given a satellite phone.

Mr McGinley said a guilty verdict would provide a measure of justice for them and another dozen hostages who survived.

“Don’t be fooled by his testimony,” the prosecutor said. “Don’t let the passage of time diminish what he did.”

Hamza told the court how he lost both hands and part of his forearms in a 1993 accident when he helped the Pakistani military as a civil engineer.

Two women who were hostages in Yemen also testified.

Margaret Thompson, of Texas, who was shot in the leg in a shootout between Yemeni forces and the kidnappers, limped into the courtroom to describe her harrowing 24-hour ordeal.

Mary Quin, a US citizen who now lives in New Zealand, testified that she escaped one kidnapper by putting her foot against his head and wrestling away his assault rifle after he was knocked to the ground by a bullet.

The court was shown clips of a taped interview Ms Quin conducted with Hamza at his London mosque as she prepared to write a book about the kidnapping.

Mr McGinley told jurors Hamza had boasted to Ms Quin about the kidnappings, saying: “Islamically, it is a good thing.”

Mr McGinley said that statement belied Hamza’s claims that when he spoke to the lead kidnapper during the crisis, he tried to be a peacemaker.

“No-one who actually tried to be a peacemaker would say to a victim of that kidnapping that it was a good thing,” he said.

The prosecutor acknowledged Hamza’s speaking skills, saying he was “good with words,” but also warned: “Don’t buy it.”

“The real Abu Hamza is not the man you see in 2014,” Mr McGinley added.

Defence attorney Jeremy Schneider warned jurors not to let their judgment be overrun by the emotion of the terrorist acts they heard about repeatedly, including the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors and the September 11 attacks a year later, the memorial for which opened blocks away from the courtroom during the trial.

“The vast majority of the evidence is his words, not his deeds,” Mr Schneider said, adding that his client’s statements were taken out of context.

“Many times, his words aren’t connected to what he did,” Schneider said.

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