Radical Muslim cleric jailed for 7 years

Egyptian-born al-Masri jailed for fomenting racial hatred, inciting followers to kill non-Muslims.

al-masri 88.298 (photo credit: )
al-masri 88.298
(photo credit: )
Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, also known to British people as the 'Mad Mullah', was sentenced on Tuesday afternoon to 7 years in jail. This came after a jury in Britain convicted the radical Muslim cleric, earlier on Tuesday, of fomenting racial hatred and inciting followers to kill non-Muslims. Abu Hamza intended to appeal against his conviction on the grounds that the case against him was, in his opinion, politically motivated. Al-Masri, 47, the former imam at London's Finsbury Park mosque, was also found guilty of possessing a terrorist document as well as threatening or abusive recordings. Al-Masri, Britain's best-known Islamist orator, could receive a maximum sentence of life in prison. The jury of seven men and five women found al-Masri guilty on seven of nine charges of soliciting murder. He was also convicted on two of four charges of stirring racial hatred. Though asked to stand for the reading of the verdict, the firebrand preacher immediately sat down once the first guilty verdict was pronounced by the jury's foreman. The mosque has been linked to a number of terrorist suspects, including alleged Sept. 11 plotter Zacarias Moussaoui and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. The trial, which began Jan. 11, also was closely watched in Washington because the Egyptian-born firebrand cleric was arrested after U.S. authorities charged him on an 11-count indictment with trying to establish a terrorist training camp in the state of Oregon, conspiring to take hostages in Yemen and facilitating terror training in Afghanistan. Under British law, the domestic charges took precedence over the extradition case, but al-Masri could now be sent to the United States for prosecution there if U.S. authorities request it. In his trial at London's Central Criminal Court, al-Masri, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, faced 15 counts, including nine of soliciting the murder of others, "namely a person or persons who did not believe in the Islamic faith." Three of the charges add: "in particular Jewish people." He also faced four counts of using threatening or abusive language designed to stir racial hatred, one count of possessing threatening or abusive recordings and one count of possessing a document likely to be useful in terrorism _ the "Encyclopedia of the Afghani Jihad." During the trial, al-Masri, who pleaded innocent, sat in the dock of the wood-paneled courtroom flanked by guards and listened intently to the proceedings. The cleric has one eye and hooks for hands, which he says were lost fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Close media coverage of the preacher has made him one of Britain's best known Muslim radicals. He was head preacher at the Finsbury mosque from the late 1990s until 2003, when he was ousted by the community's leaders. During the trial, al-Masri, who has called the Sept. 11 attacks a Jewish plot and the invasion of Iraq a war on Islam, took the stand and denied any involvement in violence. He said he is only a spokesman for political causes. But prosecutor David Perry told the jury of seven men and five women: "The prosecution case, in a sentence, is that the defendant ... was preaching murder and hatred in these talks." In speeches at the mosque and elsewhere, al-Masri called Jews "blasphemous, traitors and dirty" and said their behavior was "why Hitler was sent into the world," Perry said. The prosecution played a series of sermons given by al-Masri in which they allege he preached "terrorism, homicidal violence and hatred." Edward Fitzgerald, al-Masri's defense lawyer, told jurors that although some of what the radical preacher had said was offensive and "a bit over the top," he was not "intending to incite anybody to do anything specific." During the trial, al-Masri denied that he called for attacks against high-profile targets such as Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower, but said he condoned suicide bombings in some cases. He said the case against him was politically motivated.