Radical Islamic preacher Abu Hamza, whose fiery sermons before and after the September 11 attacks attracted extremists to his north London mosque, could be facing life in prison after being found guilty of terrorism charges in the US.
Egyptian-born Hamza, 56, was convicted after a trial in New York that a prosecutor said should provide justice for the victims of a kidnapping in Yemen more than a decade ago.
Hamza is known for his anti-Semitic remarks. At his London trial in October 2004, he was charged with 16 offences of inciting racial hatred, including urging his followers to murder Jews. Evidence presented in this New York trial included a tape recording of Hamza referring to “dirty Jews, Christians, most of them homosexual persons.”
Hamza was accused of providing material support to terrorist organisations 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 the US state of Oregon, and by sending at least one man to training camps in Afghanistan.
Following a lengthy legal battle he was extradited in 2012 from the UK, where he led the Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s. Hamza’s mosque was reportedly attended by both September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid, who he denied ever having met.
Hamza looked straight ahead as the verdict was read out at the federal court. Sentencing was set for September 8, when he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The verdict has been hailed by PM David Cameron, who has pledged to “take more steps” to speed up the deportation of people who pose a threat to Britain. Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Cameron said, “I think it’s good that he has faced justice and justice has been done. I think we should reflect on whether we can extradite faster.”
Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly member and parliamentary candidate for Hendon has also welcomed the verdict.
Mr Dismore said, “I first raised in Parliament the evil activities of Abu Hamza as long ago as early 1998, when I was MP for Hendon. In the UK, welcome action was only taken after 9/11, but this did not include the crimes in the Yemen or in the US, in large part because our courts are not allowed to hear intercepted evidence.
“I am pleased that after so long, we are now seeing justice being done, justice which Abu Hamza despises. It looks like he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, which is where this highly dangerous individual belongs.”
US Attorney Preet Bharara said Hamza “attempted to portray himself as a preacher of faith but he was, instead, a trainer of terrorists”.
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 never engaged in acts of terrorism or aided 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, to whom Hamza had given a satellite phone. The prosecutor 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,” Mr McGinley said. “Don’t let the passage of time diminish what he did.”
Abu Hamza, real name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, first arrived in Britain in 1979 at the age of 21 on a six month Egyptian passport. He was granted citizenship in May 1986, when he was studying civil engineering at Brighton polytechnic, on the basis that he had lived in Britain for more than five years.