NEW YORK (Reuters) - London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri was convicted of terrorism charges in New York on Monday, following a four-week trial that shined a spotlight on the preacher’s controversial anti-Western statements.
After deliberating for less than two days, a jury of eight men and four women found Abu Hamza, 56, guilty on all 11 counts he faced, handing Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara his second high-profile terrorism conviction in three months.
Abu Hamza could face life in prison when he is sentenced in September.
Prosecutors had charged the one-eyed, handless Abu Hamza with providing a satellite phone and advice to Yemeni militants who kidnapped Western tourists in 1998, an operation that led to the deaths of four hostages.
Abu Hamza also was accused of dispatching two followers to Oregon to establish a militant training facility and sending an associate to Afghanistan to help al Qaeda and the Taliban.
His lawyers claimed the case relied largely on the incendiary language in his sermons at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, which earned him notoriety as one of Britain’s most prominent radical Islamic voices.
Many of his words were played at trial, including an interview in which Abu Hamza expressed support for the September 11, 2001, attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people in the United States.
Defense lawyer Joshua Dratel said the relatively quick verdict demonstrated that the jurors reacted emotionally to the inflammatory statements rather than sticking to the evidence.
“This is what we feared, that there would be no deliberations at all, essentially,” he said. “Beliefs are not a crime.” He said he plans to appeal the conviction.
But the jury’s foreman, Howard Bailynson, a 44-year-old Xerox employee, told reporters there was “no doubt” Abu Hamza received a fair trial.
Abu Hamza testified in his own defense, denying he sent anyone to Oregon or Afghanistan and claiming he became involved in the kidnapping only after it began, when he offered to negotiate a peaceful resolution.
Prosecutors countered with evidence that he spoke with the Yemeni militants’ leader the night before the kidnapping and that the two men who traveled to Oregon said he had sent them.
Speaking briefly to reporters, Bharara said the verdict proved once again that the U.S. justice system can handle high-profile terrorism trials.
“Abu Hamza attempted to portray himself as a preacher of faith,” he said. “He was, instead, a trainer of terrorists.”
In March, a different jury found Suleiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama bin Laden, guilty of terrorism-related charges.
Abu Hamza, who was indicted in the United States in 2004 under his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, spent eight years in prison in the Britain for inciting violence before his 2012 extradition.
During the trial, Abu Hamza testified that he lost his arms and eye in an accidental explosion in Pakistan 20 years ago, contradicting widespread reports that he was injured while fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Chris Reese and Mohammad Zargham