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UK preacher Abu Hamza jailed for life in US

NEW YORK: A US judge on Friday sentenced British preacher Abu Hamza Friday to life behind bars for the deadly kidnapping of Western tourists in Yemen and terrorism, calling his crimes “evil” and “barbaric.”

The hook-handed imam, blind in one eye and a double-hand amputee, was a tabloid bogeyman in Britain after the 9/11 attacks for preaching vitriolic, anti-American sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London.

The 56-year-old stared impassively at the table and pursed his lips as Judge Katherine Forrest sentenced him to life behind bars, eight months after he was convicted by a jury on May 19 after a four-week trial.

Abu Hamza would be committed to life imprisonment in US custody, Forrest decided, saying the world could not be safe with such a man at liberty exhorting others to acts of violence.

Blind in one eye and with both hands blown off by an explosives experiment in Pakistan, Abu Hamza, whose real name is Mustafa Kemal Mustafa, alarmed the jury for professing to love Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Forrest said she had thought long and hard about the severity of the sentence, for a complicated man who was a loved father but who showed no remorse.

“Evil comes in many forms but doesn’t always show itself immediately in all its darkness,” Forrest said. There is “a side of you that this court views as evil.”

She said he played a leadership role in 1998 kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed, and in trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon in 1999.

– “Barbaric” –

She called his crimes “barbaric” and “unacceptable in a civilized society.”

He provided material support to Al-Qaeda, assisted the Taliban, sent terror recruits to Afghanistan and perjured himself at trial, she said.

Although he was not on the ground in Yemen, he provided the kidnappers with a “indispensable” satellite phone, Forrest said.

She sentenced him to two life sentences over the kidnapping, and a combined total of 100 years on the nine other counts all to be served concurrently.

Dressed in navy scrubs, pale behind spectacles and a trimmed gray and white beard, Abu Hamza sat in court chatting to his female lawyer and occasionally put on a prosthetic limb to take notes.

He insisted he was innocent and demanded to be sent to a prison hospital, saying he had suffered “torture” as a double amputee suffering from diabetes in an ordinary detention facility in New York since extradition.

“With all honesty I do maintain my innocence,” he told an impassive Forrest. He claimed to have been bullied, subjected to small but repeated injuries. He also complained of missing teeth and in-growing toe nails.

Abu Hamza’s lawyer Sam Schmidt requested a sentence shorter than life in prison, that would give his client “a chance to spend some of the last few years of his life with his family.”

He argued repeatedly that Hamza should not be confined to the “extraordinarily harsh conditions” at the supermax federal prison ADX Florence in Colorado where the United States has jailed its most dangerous convicted criminals.

– Justice at last –

Forrest made no recommendation on where Hamza should serve his sentence.

Prosecutors argued that a life-sentence was the only appropriate punishment.

“Abu Hamza’s blood-soaked journey from cleric to convict, from imam to inmate, is now complete,” said top Manhattan attorney Preet Bharara.

“After years of fighting extradition, Abu Hamza finally faced justice, as all those who engage in terrorism against innocent civilians must, here in the US, and all around the globe, as the terrible events in Paris remind us.”

Abu Hamza admitted at trial to using strong words in his sermons and fiery speeches — 13 extracts of which Forrest read out on Friday.

She said the cleric was intelligent, articulate and privileged, saying the privately-educated, Egyptian-born engineer could have chosen a different path.

But instead, the father-of-nine joined Finsbury Park mosque in 1997, where he preached vitriolic sermons, in particular against the United States.

He was arrested by British police in 2004 at Washington’s request and sentenced to seven years in jail in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred, before being extradited to the United States in 2012.

Campaigners will likely seize on the sentencing as further proof that terror cases can be handled effectively in US civilian courts as pressure builds to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and Al-Qaeda spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, was jailed for life on September 23 for plotting to kill Americans and providing material support to terrorists- AFP

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