Cleric gets seven years in jail for soliciting murder

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The Independent Online

The Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been jailed for seven years after being found guilty of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred during sermons to his followers.

A jury at the Old Bailey returned unanimous guilty verdicts on 11 of the 15 charges against the 47-year-old preacher who controlled the high-profile Finsbury Park mosque in north London - described by police last night as a "honey pot" for extremists.

Mr Justice Hughes said it was not known if anyone who had listened to the cleric's words had acted upon them. But he said Abu Hamza had helped to create an atmosphere in which killing was considered by some as a " moral and religious duty".

Contrasting the right to free speech with the cleric's criminal behaviour, Mr Justice Hughes said: "You are entitled to your views and in this country you are entitled to expressthem up to the point where you incite murder or incite racial hatred. That, however, is what you did.

"You used your authority to legitimise anger and to encourage your audiences to believe that it gave rise to a duty to murder ... The potential for both direct and indirect damage of what you said is simply incalculable."

Unknown to the jurors, the Egyptian-born orator faces extradition to the US, after he has served his sentence. He is accused of attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, participating in a plot to kidnap tourists in Yemen in 1998 and funding recruits to attend al-Qa'ida camps in Afghanistan. If convicted, he faces 100 years in jail.

The cleric was convicted on six out of nine charges for soliciting murder, three of four counts of inciting racial hatred, one charge of possession of video and audio recordings which he intended to distribute to stir up racial hatred and one count of possessing an item of potential use in an act of terrorism - a 10-volume Encyclopedia of Afghani Terrorism, found at his home.

Lawyers for Abu Hamza, who denies the US allegations, said he would appeal against his conviction. His solicitor, Muddassar Arani, said: "Sheikh Abu Hamza considers himself to be a prisoner of faith and he has been subjected to a slow martyrdom."

The conviction was welcomed by police and politicians as it was revealed that potential terrorist paraphernalia, including forged or stolen passports and paramilitary equipment, was found during a raid on the Finsbury Park mosque in 2003. Officers believe the equipment was used in training camps in Britain but declined to reveal where.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Yard's anti-terrorist branch, said: "[The mosque] was almost like a honey pot for extremists. It had a reputation not just across the country but Europe and beyond as a place that extremists could gather and feel comfortable."

Abu Hamza said at his trial that he met MI5 and Special Branch officers nine times between 1997 and 2000 but was never told to tone down his rhetoric.

The Independent has learnt from counter-terrorist sources that Abu Hamza was linked to a number of al-Qa'ida figures in Britain who attended meetings at the mosque and the Four Feathers Youth Club in Baker Street, central London.

In his own words...

ON HOMOSEXUALS:

"They have a common punishment amongst them and they have the virus [Aids] to run after them wherever they go."

"You have to check the details of your hair-dresser before you give him your head."

ON LESBIANS:

"Women should not be [in] the same bed together." Neither should they see others' intimate parts. That was why "even the sauna in our countries or taking bath outside the house for a woman is forbidden".

[If the state did not stop homosexuality] "some people have to stop it. People will be killed, no problem."

ON DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES:

"There are people now who worship Diana. After a while she will have her own Koran, have mosques and churches in her name."

ON DEMOCRACY:

"They don't want to be ruled by religion... they don't want women to cover up... they don't want the king to rule.

For that they either cancel the monarchy or make the Queen like a monkey that sits in a gold cage that people look at, like a cow - and go around her and she cannot rule or say anything. They leave their wealth to the dogs."

ON WOMEN:

"Bring up your daughters to that manners [not answering back to her husband] otherwise they going to be divorced in the first week of their marriage, or slapped in the face.

"Look at your daughter - if you don't have a daughter, look at somebody else's daughter and what she's done before she's gone to kuffar [non-believer] school.

"She [Muslim woman attending Western school] says she wants this and that, and she kick the floor and she start giving bad manner. And probably after a couple of years when she's learnt some more words she says [to her father] 'I don't care a tin monkey about you'. This is what we are doing to our people, our wives..."

ON MEN IN ISLAM:

"Yes, men do wrong, but if the man is not shy enough to look after his wife, the wife should be shy enough to look after her marriage."

ON PROSTITUTES:

"Throw a couple of bottles at their heads or something - tell them to go."