Islamic cleric convicted in NYC terrorism trial
New York • An Egyptian Islamic cleric whose fiery sermons before and after Sept. 11 attracted extremists to his London mosque was convicted Monday by jurors who followed a trail of evidence linking him to a kidnapping in Yemen that killed four hostages and efforts to create an al-Qaida training camp in America.
The 56-year-old cleric, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was found guilty in federal court in Manhattan just weeks after al-Qaida's spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks was convicted. Attorney General Eric Holder championed both verdicts as a triumph for civil courts, saying "the debate over how to best seek justice in these cases is quietly being put to rest."
Jury foreman Howard Bailynson said jurors kept emotions about terrorism away, following the facts and relying on layers of government witnesses linking Mustafa to the 1998 kidnapping, including proof that a satellite phone purchased by Mustafa ended up in Yemen in the hands of the hostage-takers.
"I never had 9/11 enter into my decision-making process," Bailynson said as he stood outside the courthouse just blocks from the World Trade Center site after the verdict.
Mustafa was convicted of providing material support to terrorist organizations with the satellite phone, by sending men to establish an al-Qaida training camp in Bly, Oregon, and by sending at least one man to training camps in Afghanistan.
The imam was extradited in 2012 from England, where he led London's Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s, reportedly attended by both Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid. Mustafa denied ever meeting them.
Mustafa looked straight ahead as the verdict was read. Sentencing was set for Sept. 9, when he likely faces life in prison.
Defense attorney Joshua Dratel said the verdict was "not about the evidence but about a visceral reaction to the defendant."
"It's unfortunate that's what happened and it's what we feared," he added.
But Bailynson, a 44-year-old Xerox Corp. employee from suburban Westchester County, said Mustafa "was not tried on his words."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Mustafa "attempted to portray himself as a preacher of faith but he was, instead, a trainer of terrorists."
For much of the past month, jurors watched videotapes and heard audio clips in which Mustafa shouted to his followers, telling them non-Muslims could be treated like animals and women and children who were not Muslim could be taken captive.
But they saw a gentler version of Mustafa on the witness stand, speaking confidently in the tone of a college professor while denying involvement in terrorism or aiding al-Qaida.
His testimony was derided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley, who warned jurors not to "be fooled."
In his closing, McGinley read aloud the names of four European tourists who died in 1998 in Yemen after their convoy of cars was overtaken by extremist Islamic kidnappers whom Mustafa had given the satellite phone. McGinley said a guilty verdict would provide a measure of justice for them and another dozen hostages who survived.
"Don't let the passage of time diminish what he did," he said.
Referred by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike by his alias, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Mustafa told jurors about losing both hands, an eye and part of his forearms in a 1993 accident when he helped the Pakistani military as a civil engineer.
Two former hostages in Yemen also testified.
The government played clips of a taped interview one woman, Mary Quin, a U.S. citizen who now lives in New Zealand, conducted with Mustafa in his London mosque as she prepared to write a book about the kidnapping. McGinley told jurors Mustafa boasted to Quin about the kidnappings, saying: "Islamically, it is a good thing."
McGinley said that statement belied Mustafa's claims that when he spoke to the lead kidnapper during the crisis, he tried to be a peacemaker.
"No one who actually tried to be a peacemaker would say to a victim of that kidnapping that it was a good thing," he said.
Bailynson, the juror, called Quin, who also had worked for Xerox, a "great woman" for confronting Mustafa with a tape recorder.
He said it took "an extreme amount of courage on her behalf."