New York Jury Convicts Abu Hamza Al-Masri In Terror Trial

| by Jared Keever

A federal jury in New York on Monday found Islamic cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri guilty of a variety of charges related to aiding terrorists around the globe. 

The 56-year-old cleric, who was born Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was charged in connection with the 1998 kidnapping plot in Yemen in which four European tourists were killed. Al-Masri was also charged with violating U.S. sanctions against the Taliban and attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. He faced a total of 11 criminal counts.

After 12 hours of deliberation over two days, jurors convicted him on all counts.

"The defendant stands convicted, not for what he said, but for what he did," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara told CNN. "Once again our civilian system of justice has proven itself up to the task of trying an accused terrorist and arriving at a fair and just and swift result.”

Among the pieces of evidence presented by the prosecution during the three-week trial were pictures and videos of Osama bin Laden taken from al-Masri’s home computer and a 10-volume “Encyclopedia of Jihad.”

Defense attorney, Jeremy Schneider, warned jurors during his closing argument not to be distracted by the “quantity of irrelevant evidence.”

“It's a very slippery slope to use someone's library against them,” he said.

Al-Masri made a similar argument during his own testimony in the trial. He told jurors that in New York, “you can convict a person of killing the Dead Sea” by invoking the memory of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. He claimed that he was merely a “mouthpiece” in the struggle against the Yemeni government — the backdrop against which the kidnappings took place.

Schneider told reporters after the verdict was read that he believed the jurors came to the trial with a “foregone conclusion.”

"The deliberations confirmed our fears they would focus on words and ideas rather than the evidence," he said.

Jurors heard a tape during the trial in which al-Masri said, "Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center.” 

Howard Bailynson, the foreman of the jury, told reporters that he was able to put that video out of his mind and focus on the facts in the case.

"I never had 9/11 enter into my decision-making process," he said after the trial, according to the Associated Press.

Bailynson said jurors relied on factual evidence, which included proof that al-Masri provided a satellite phone to the Yemeni kidnappers as well as various taped interviews that revealed he knew about the kidnapping plot before it took place. 

He said al-Masri “was not tried on his words.”

The two criminal counts relating to the kidnappings both carry possible life sentences. Sentencing is scheduled for September 9.

Sources: CNN, Associated Press