NEW YORK—Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Egyptian-born British cleric on trial in Manhattan, on Monday was found guilty by a federal jury of 11 terrorism charges.
The verdict followed fewer than two full days of deliberations. The monthlong trial marked the second time this year that federal civilian prosecutors secured a swift conviction in a high-profile terrorism case. Some critics have contended that military commissions are the more suitable venue for such trials.
The case was the second of three terrorism cases to be tried in the Southern District of New York this year. In March, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and former al Qaeda spokesman, was found guilty of conspiracy to kill Americans. The trial of three men accused of helping to plot the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is expected to open later this year.
Mr. al-Masri, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. His defense team argued that the government’s case was built primarily on a series of inflammatory statements Mr. al-Masri had made—such as comparing infidels to cows and pigs, and declaring it acceptable to behead and enslave them—during his career as a preacher.
The government’s case was bolstered by a number of cooperative witnesses who testified against Mr. al-Masri in exchange for witness protection, government stipends and leniency in their own cases.
Faxes, voice-mail messages and phone records further supported the government’s claims that Mr. al-Masri played a central role in a 1998 kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, an attempt to found a jihadi training camp in Oregon and the dispatch of recruits to fight with the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan.
The trial’s climax came when Mr. al-Masri took the stand in his own defense, a relatively rare occurrence in terrorism trials. He tangled with Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan during a combative cross-examination.
“We are gratified that the jury has returned a unanimous verdict of guilt,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, in a statement.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. al-Masri’s Finsbury Park Mosque in London was a meeting point for some of militant Islam’s most notorious figures. Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker in the September 2001 attacks on the U.S., and shoe bomber Richard Reid were among those to pass through the mosque.
What Mr. al-Masri, a former manager of a London strip club, lacked in theological learning, he made up for with rhetorical flourish. His two missing hands and glass eye—injuries he told the court he suffered in an explosives accident with the Pakistani military—also gave the preacher the credibility of a battlefield veteran from the Afghan jihad.
“He looked the part of an angry extremist, and I think that contributed to his prominent profile,” said Ghaffar Hussain, managing director of the Quilliam Foundation, a London-based think tank that works to counter extremism.
Mr. al-Masri was an early adapter of the Internet and publisher of one of the first online jihadi pamphlets.
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