Manhattan judge gives life sentence to imam who supported al-Qaeda

by Emily Belz
Posted 1/09/15, 03:54 pm

NEW YORK—As French special forces were closing in on Islamic militants holding hostages in Paris today, al-Qaeda associate and radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, 56, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to life in prison. 

The one-eyed, hook-handed Abu Hamza—also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa—was convicted of several counts of conspiring and supporting terrorists, as well as attempting to establish a terrorist training program in Oregon. The imam also was convicted of facilitating a follower’s travel to Afghanistan to fight with al-Qaeda.

He played a role in an attack in Yemen in 1998, where militants took 16 Western hostages, four of whom (three Britons and one Australian) were killed. Abu Hamza provided a satellite phone to the hostage-takers and counseled them before and after the attack. Abu Hamza’s stepson and other associates had been arrested in Yemen a few days before the hostage-taking, and the attackers told hostages they would be exchanged for the militants’ “friends.”

Abu Hamza preached from Finsbury Park Mosque in London to terrorists like attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid and the “20th hijacker,” Zacarias Moussaoui, who is currently serving a life sentence in U.S. federal prison. But Abu Hamza was not convicted for his incendiary sermons.

A jury convicted Abu Hamza of terrorism-related charges in May, after a four-week trial. Britain extradited him to the United States in 2012 after his case there had dragged on for eight years.

“It is important to me that you have not expressed sympathy for the victims of the Yemeni kidnappings,” U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest told Abu Hamza on Friday when she delivered the life sentence. Forrest called his actions “barbaric.” 

The sentence is a victory for Justice Department prosecutors. The defense had asked for a lighter sentence and for Abu Hamza to spend his sentence in a medical facility instead of a prison because of health issues. Forrest said it would not be safe to release him, and that federal prison officials would decide where he spent his sentence.

“After years of fighting extradition, Abu Hamza finally faced justice, as all those who engage in terrorism against innocent civilians must, here in the U.S. and all around the globe, as the terrible events in Paris remind us,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. 

Emily Belz

Emily reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.

Read more from this writer