US-Pakistani man sentenced for helping al-Qaeda

Image caption,
Special security surrounds the Manhattan court

A Pakistani-American has been sentenced to 15 years in jail by a court in New York for conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Syed Hashmi was arrested in London in 2006 and became the first person to be extradited under laws brought in by the UK after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

Hashmi was charged with sheltering an al-Qaeda operative in London between 2004 and 2006 and lending him money.

The judge said that he was a "knowing and willing al-Qaeda supporter".

She said that because of his US citizenship he represented a unique threat.

'Ignorant of Allah'

Hashmi's sentencing was part of a last-minute deal with prosecutors in April in which he admitted certain charges in exchange for three other counts being dropped, thereby avoiding a trial and up to 70 years in jail.

Correspondents say that in a 20-minute address to the court on Wednesday, Hashmi was at times defiant, choked with tears and contrite.

He attributed his "many, many mistakes" to a misunderstanding of Islam and being manipulated by others.

"I did it when I was ignorant of Allah and his message," he said. "Muslims cannot wage war against non-Muslims in their host country.

"Yes, I was wrong in helping my brothers the noble mujahideen, but they will always be in my prayers."

He also berated the US for its treatment of Muslims in prisons, saying they were "held in captivity" like animals.

Human rights groups have criticised the terms of his imprisonment because for the past three years he has been held in solitary confinement with 23-hour-a-day lock downs, constant video surveillance and almost no visitors.

A Pakistani-born US citizen, Hashmi went to the UK on a student visa in 2003 and joined the radical Islamist group, al-Muhajiroun.

He was accused by prosecutors of sheltering an al-Qaeda operative at his flat in London, letting the man use his mobile phone, lending him £200 ($290), and helping him store clothing collected for al-Qaeda members.

Correspondents say his case has been a controversial one from the start.

Much of the evidence against him was classified, which meant his lawyers were not able to discuss it - even with him.

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