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N.Y. judge sentences Islamic cleric to life in prison on terror charges

An Egyptian-born cleric was sentenced to life in prison on a variety of terrorism charges

An Egyptian-born cleric was sentenced to life in prison on Friday on a variety of terrorism charges including taking part in the abduction of Western hostages in Yemen and working to set up a terrorist training camp in rural Oregon.

Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who authorities said used a variety of names including Abu Hamza Masri, was convicted on May 19 by a federal jury in New York. Jurors took less than a full day to return guilty verdicts on 11 counts that alleged activities such as taking hostages to conspiring to provide goods and services for the Taliban.

The charges carried penalties ranging from five years imprisonment to life behind bars. The government, in its sentencing memo, sought the maximum term, saying: "No sentence short of life imprisonment is appropriate."

In their reply, defense lawyers contended that Mustafa should get a lesser sentence and be sent to a prison medical facility rather than a maximum security prison because he is missing his hands and forearms and has other ailments. There are a variety of reports on how Mustafa lost his limbs and one eye, but all revolve around military or training activities.

“This court is in the unique position to take preemptive measures to ensure that Mr. Mustafa’s sentence, however long, complies with the Eighth Amendment, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the separate protections Congress requires for the disabled,” defense lawyers Sam A. Schmidt, Michael K. Bachrach and Lindsay A. Lewis argued in their papers.

“We are not asking for unwarranted leniency, we are merely asking that justice be tempered with mercy,” they said.

However, in handing down the life sentence, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest called Mustafa’s actions “barbaric” and “misguided.”

Prosecutors said federal prison officials will determine where Mustafa will serve his sentence.

Mustafa, 56, is a naturalized British citizen who gained fame for his fiery sermons in London's Finsbury Park Mosque. He was arrested in Britain and extradited to the United States in 2012.

“This defendant has devoted much of his life to supporting terrorism,” the government argued in its sentencing memo, referring to Mustafa by one of his other names. “Operating out of the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, Abu Hamza worked tirelessly to drive his young, impressionable followers to participate in acts of violence and murder across the globe. From the safe confines of his mosque, Abu Hamza openly and unapologetically used the power of his hateful words to distort religion by giving purported religious justification for acts of terrorism.

“In Abu Hamza’s eyes, engaging in violent jihad was not just recommended, it was mandatory,” prosecutors said.

The cleric pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stemmed from actions that took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s. He was accused of sending followers to Bly, Ore., a remote hamlet 300 miles southeast of Portland, to set up a terrorist training camp in 1999.

Mustafa was also charged with conspiring with hostage-takers who seized 16 tourists in Yemen in December 1998. Four European tourists died in a rescue operation. Two Americans who survived the abduction were among the prosecution witnesses.

Mustafa, who was not with the hostage-takers but who spoke with them via satellite phone during the ordeal, said he was trying to help negotiate a peaceful outcome, not aid the abductors. He spent four days on the stand testifying on his own behalf.

Prosecutors also alleged that in 2000-2001, Mustafa "provided a variety of support to Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, including by dispatching a follower to train and fight with Al Qaeda and by sending money and other support to the Taliban.”

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

12:07 p.m.: This article has been updated with additional details, including information from government charging documents.

10:57 a.m.: This article has been updated with additional details.

This article was originally published at 10:31 a.m.

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