Abu Hamza: Home Secretary Theresa May hails guilty verdict

Court sketch from Abu Hamza's trial in New York During his trial Abu Hamza appeared without the distinctive hook he wore after losing his hands

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The UK home secretary has hailed the verdict of a New York court which found radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri guilty of supporting terrorism.

Theresa May said the conviction came after the government's successful bid to have him extradited from the UK, where he rose to prominence for his fiery sermons at a north London mosque.

Abu Hamza, who is due to be sentenced on 9 September, could face a life term.

The court heard he aided the kidnappers of 16 tourists in Yemen in 1998.

The 56-year-old was also accused of attempting to build a terror training camp in Oregon in the north-western US.

He showed little emotion in court as the verdict was read out, only answering "yes" when his lawyer asked if he was OK.

Nick Bryant looks back at the case against Abu Hamza

He was extradited from the UK, where he preached at the Finsbury Park mosque, after having been jailed for seven years for inciting murder and racial hatred.

Analysis

The conviction of Abu Hamza in New York marks the end of a 16-year long global saga. I first heard his name in Yemen in 1998 while covering the violent kidnapping of 16 western tourists by a gang of jihadists. Three Britons and an Australian died when Yemeni forces rescued the hostages.

Working with the late Times journalist Danny McGrory, we discovered that the kidnappers had been in contact with an extremist imam in a London mosque: Abu Hamza in Finsbury Park. Later it transpired that his son, stepson and several other British radicals had been arrested days earlier in Yemen and Abu Hamza was hoping to trade the western hostages for their release.

Incredibly, Abu Hamza then remained free to preach hatred and intolerance for years afterwards, before being ousted from the mosque and continuing his sermons in the street in front of a small but fanatical group of followers.

He styled himself 'Sheikh' but this former nightclub worker lacked the religious knowledge and authority of the Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada. For years before his arrest in 2004 the security services failed to take him seriously, a mistake they later came to regret.

In New York the jury of eight men and four women reached a unanimous guilty verdict on all 11 terror charges.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The defendant stands convicted, not for what he said, but for what he did.

"Abu Hamza was not just a preacher of faith, but a trainer of terrorists.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bhara: "Abu Hamza... attempted to portray himself as a preacher of faith but he was, instead, a trainer of terrorists"

"Once again our civilian system of justice has proven itself up to the task of trying an accused terrorist and arriving at a fair and just and swift result."

Reacting to the verdict, Mrs May said: "I am pleased that Abu Hamza has finally faced justice. He used every opportunity, over many years, to frustrate and delay the extradition process."

'Religious war'

Abu Hamza was arrested in May 2004 on a US arrest warrant.

The 11 charges against him included allegations that he arranged satellite communications for a group of kidnappers in Yemen who carried out a deadly attack in which four hostages were killed.

He was eventually also found guilty of conspiring in 1999-2000 to establish an al-Qaeda training camp in Bly, Oregon, among other acts.

He was convicted of various crimes including hostage taking, conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, and abetting religious war in Afghanistan.

Abu Hamza's defence team said he would appeal, claiming that too much weight had been given to comments he had made on unrelated matters.

His lawyer, Joshua Dratel, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Our fear is that the introduction of a large volume of inflammatory rhetoric by Abu Hamza as opposed to evidence by conduct by him seemed to overwhelm the deliberations."

Abu Hamza in numbers

Age

56

Came to UK

1979

  • Jailed in UK for 7 years

  • Extradited to US in 2012

  • Found guilty by US court of 11 terror charges in 2014

Getty Images

He said Abu Hamza expressed himself "in a manner that was open, very controversial, very honest, very objectionable in many respects with many people's points of view".

Mr Dratel said those people were entitled to their points of view just as Abu Hamza was to his.

"What that doesn't do is make him a criminal," he added.

"And unfortunately, we think that the tenor of his remarks and the way that they were admitted in this case in sort of trigger points for United States, particularly a New York jury, 9/11, Osama Bin Laden, al-Qaeda, all of that created an atmosphere in which the evidence was not evaluated."

Theresa May Theresa May says she is pleased Abu Hamza has "finally faced justice"
'Helped MI5'

Born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, Abu Hamza al-Masri came to Britain from Egypt in 1979. Before gaining notoriety as an Islamist, he had worked at a strip club in London's Soho.

He told the court he lost an eye and both his hands - not, as he had previously claimed, from fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan - but during an accident in Pakistan when liquid explosives intended for use in a road construction project went off by mistake.

Abu Hamza's lawyer, Jeremy Schneider, suggested the terrorism charges had an emotional effect on the jury

It was after this that he began wearing a hook in place of his hands which, along with his missing eye, made him a distinctive figure among British Islamists.

The BBC's security correspondent Frank Gardner said he was ousted from Finsbury Park mosque where he had been an "extremist imam" but was allowed to continue preaching.

His defence claimed in the trial that he had assisted MI5 "to keep the streets of London safe".

But the prosecution portrayed him as a terrorism boss, recruiting and despatching young men on missions around the world.

They said the calm figure who had appeared during the trial was a fraud.

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