British preacher Abu Hamza jailed for life in US

A courtroom sketch shows Abu Hamza, 56, appearing in US District court in Manhattan, New York, Jan 9, 2015. Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri was sentenced to life in prison on Friday, eight months after he was convicted of federal terrorism charges in
A courtroom sketch shows Abu Hamza, 56, appearing in US District court in Manhattan, New York, Jan 9, 2015. Radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri was sentenced to life in prison on Friday, eight months after he was convicted of federal terrorism charges in New York. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (AFP) - A US judge sentenced British hate preacher Abu Hamza on Friday to life behind bars for 11 terrorism and kidnapping convictions, calling his crimes that spanned the globe “evil” and “barbaric.”

The hook-handed imam, blind in one eye and a double-hand amputee, became a tabloid bogeyman in Britain for preaching vitriolic, anti-American sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.

He stared impassively at the table and pursed his lips as Judge Katherine Forrest sentenced him to life behind bars, eight months after he was convicted by a jury on May 19 after a four-week trial.

Abu Hamza would be “committed to a sentence of life imprisonment in the custody of the United States attorney general and US marshalls,” she announced at the end of a three-hour hearing.

Blind in one eye and with both hands blown off by an explosives experiment in Pakistan, he alarmed the jury by speaking of his love for Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and compared himself to Irish republican leader Gerry Adams.

Abu Hamza showed no remorse for his crimes, and again pleaded his innocence in court and demanded to be sent to a federal prison hospital, where he said he would be better treated as a double amputee suffering from diabetes.

“With all honesty I do maintain my innocence,” he said, dressed in navy scrubs and gesticulating with his raw, red stumps. His face was pale behind a grey and white beard.

Forrest said she had thought long and hard about the severity of the sentence but ultimated concluded the world would not be safe with him a free man.

“Evil comes in many forms but doesn’t always show itself immediately in all its darkness,” Forrest said. There is “a side of you that this court views as evil.”

She called his crimes “barbaric” and “obviously unacceptable in a civilized society.”

It took the jury just 12 hours to convict him of facilitating the 1998 abduction of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, providing material support to Al-Qaeda, assisting the Taleban and sending terror recruits to Afghanistan.

Abu Hamza, whose full name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, provided the kidnappers with a satellite phone, acted as an intermediary and dispensed them advice.

Four of the kidnapped tourists were killed.

LEADER IN GLOBAL ISLAMIC WAR

He was also convicted of trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon in 1999 and of promoting violent, global Islamic war.

Forrest sentenced him to two life sentences on two counts related to the Yemen kidnapping and a combined total of 100 years on the nine other counts all to be served concurrently.

Abu Hamza’s lawyer Sam Schmidt requested a sentence less than life “to allow this 56-year-old man a chance to spend some of the last few years of his life with his family” and that he be incarcerated in a federal medical facility.

Given his disabilities he argued that his client not be transferred to the supermax federal jail ADX Florence in Colorado where the United States has jailed its most dangerous convicted criminals.

Prosecutor Edward Kim said a life-sentence was the only appropriate punishment.

“The defendant was a leader in the global war of jihad,” Kim said.

Abu Hamza admitted at trial to using strong words in his sermons and fiery speeches – 13 extracts of which Forrest read out on Friday.

The privately educated Egyptian-born father-of-nine and an engineer by training, joined Finsbury Park mosque in 1997, where he preached vitriolic sermons, in particular against the United States.

British police arrested him in August 2004 at Washington’s request, and he was sentenced to seven years in jail in 2006 in Britain for inciting murder and racial hatred.

He was extradited to the United States in October 2012.

Campaigners will seize on the sentencing as further proof that US terror cases could be tried more effectively in civilian courts as pressure builds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Abu Hamza is the second high-profile convicted terrorist to be sentenced to life in four months following lightning-quick trials in the same US federal court in Manhattan.

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and Al-Qaeda spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was jailed for life on September 23 for plotting to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists.