An Egyptian imam who made fiery sermons in London before and after 9/11 was convicted in New York on Monday in a four-week trial that focused on the preacher's controversial anti-Western statements. He could face life in prison when he is sentenced in September.
A jury of eight men and four women found Abu Hamza al-Masri, 56, guilty on all 11 counts he faced, handing Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara his second high-profile terrorism conviction in three months. The guilty verdict comes just weeks after the conviction of Al-Qaeda's spokesman after the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith.
Attorney General Eric Holder championed that verdict as a triumph for civil courts, as opposed to military trials.
Abu Hamza, whose given name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, faced accusations of providing material support to outlawed armed groups by enabling hostage-takers in the Yemen kidnapping to speak on a satellite phone; of sending men to establish an Al-Qaeda training camp in Oregon; and of dispatching at least one man to training camps in Afghanistan.
He was extradited in 2012 from England, where in the 1990s he led London's Finsbury Park Mosque – which was reportedly attended by both 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid. Mustafa denied that he ever met them.
Defense attorney Joshua Dratel said the verdict delivered Monday was "not about the evidence but about a visceral reaction to the defendant."
"It's unfortunate that's what happened and it's what we feared," he said.
For much of the past month, jurors watched videotapes and heard audio clips in which Mustafa shouted to his followers, telling them that non-Muslims could be treated like animals, and that women and children who were not Muslims could be taken captive.
But on the witness stand they saw a gentler version of Mustafa, one who spoke confidently over four days in the tone of a college professor as he insisted he had never helped Al-Qaeda.
Referred to by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike by his alias, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Mustafa explained how he lost both hands and parts of his forearms in a 1993 accident when he helped the Pakistani military as a civil engineer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley derided this testimony, telling jurors to ignore what he called Mustafa’s lies and to concentrate on evidence.
In his closing argument, McGinley read aloud the names of four European tourists who died in Yemen in 1998 after their convoy of cars was overtaken by kidnappers, to whom McGinley said Mustafa had given a satellite phone. McGinley said a guilty verdict would provide a measure of justice for the victims, and for another dozen hostages who survived.
"Don't be fooled by his testimony," McGinley said. "Don't let the passage of time diminish what he did."
Two women who were held captive 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 U.S. 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.
In his closing, defense attorney Jeremy Schneider warned jurors not to let their judgment be overrun by emotion over the acts they repeatedly heard about.
"The vast majority of the evidence is his words, not his deeds," he 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.
Al Jazeera and wire services