Hamza guilty of race hate and terror charges

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The Independent Online

The radical Islamic cleric Abu Hamza was today jailed for seven years at the Old Bailey after he was convicted of a string of race hate and terror charges.

Sentencing him, Mr Justice Hughes said he had "helped to create an atmosphere in which to kill has become regarded by some as not only a legitimate course but a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice".

The judge said: "No one can now say what damage your words may have caused. No one can say whether you audience, present or wider, acted on your words."

But he added that his views had caused "real danger to the lives of innocent people in different parts of the world".

Hamza, 47, described by security sources as a key figure in the global Islamic terror movement, was convicted of 11 out of 15 charges by the Old Bailey jury on the fourth day of its deliberations.

What the jurors were not told was that the former Imam at the controversial Finsbury Park Mosque in north London is also wanted in the US where is accused of terror charges.

They were also unaware that when police raided the mosque in January 2003, they found an array of terrorist paraphernalia, including nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protective suits, blank firing weapons, a stun gun and a CS canister.

Detectives suspect the material had been used in terror training camps in the UK.

The judge told Hamza: "I do not make the mistake that you represent Islamic thinking generally."

He continued: "You are entitled to your views and in this country you are entitled to express them, but only up to the point where you incite murder or use language calculated to incite racial hatred. That is what you did."

He told Hamza that he had used his authority "to legitimise anger".

Hamza was convicted today of inciting his followers to murder non-Muslims and Jews.

He was also convicted of stirring up racial hatred and possessing a terror "manual", the Encyclopaedia Of The Afghani Jihad.

The handless cleric showed no reaction to the verdicts, staring straight ahead as the guilty verdicts were read out.

He showed no emotion afterwards but leant forward to speak to his counsel Edward Fitzgerald. Hamza then consulted with his solicitor before being led to the cells.

Hamza was convicted unanimously of six out of the nine soliciting to murder charges he faced by the seven men and five women jury on the fourth day of their deliberations.

He was also convicted of three charges under the Public Order Act 1986 of "using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred".

The cleric was further convicted of a charge of possession of video and audio recordings which he intended to distribute to stir up racial hatred.

He was also convicted on the last of the 15 charges he faced, under section 58 of the Terrorism Act, of possession of a document, the encyclopaedia, which contained information "of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism".

The manual featured a dedication to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and a list of potential targets, including Big Ben and the Eiffel Tower.

He was acquitted of the other three soliciting to murder charges and of one charge of stirring up racial hatred.

He denied all the charges.

Hamza was sentenced to seven years for the counts of soliciting to murder, 21 months for each of the charges of stirring up racial hatred, three years for possession of threatening, abusive or insulting recordings and three-and-a-half years for possession of a document likely to be useful to a terrorist.

All the sentences are to run concurrently.

In mitigation before sentence, Hamza's counsel Edward Fitzgerald said the cleric would "strenuously contest" extradition to the US.

"The main charge on which the Americans seek this defendant is one which was investigated by the police here in 1999 and it did not lead to the preferring of any charge."

Extradition proceedings would not only be fought on that basis, but also on the grounds that Hamza could be sent to Guantanamo Bay or into solitary confinement if he is sent to the US.

The court had heard from prosecution counsel David Perry that the US had requested extradition in relation to the kidnap of tourists in the Yemen in December 1998.

Mr Perry said Hamza was in the UK at the time of that incident. He was arrested by British police in 1999. Their investigation culminated in a decision not to prosecute.

The US also wanted him in relation to an allegation that he conspired with others to establish a training camp in Oregon and sent people to America to facilitate this.

He is also alleged to have sent others to Afghanistan to undertake training for terrorism.

Mr Perry told the court the three allegations made on behalf of the US government "are allegations yet to be adjudicated on".

Under the present law, Hamza will not be extradited until he has finished his sentence here.

Outside court, four of Hamza's supporters took off their shoes and prayed on a concrete concourse opposite the Old Bailey.

During his month-long trial, the prosecution alleged Hamza was a recruiting sergeant for global terrorism.

In sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque and in Luton, Blackburn and Whitechapel, east London, "he was preaching terrorism, homicidal violence and hatred".

Hamza gave clear encouragement to kill when he gave his sermons, Mr Perry told the jury.

He had "used the most dangerous weapons available - a great religion, Islam, his position as a civic leader and the power of words, his own words".

Nine of Hamza's speeches were played to the jury during his trial - eight on video and one audio.

Jurors were given nearly 600 A4 pages of transcripts of his talks - which were often loud, emphatic and sometimes barely audible.

But the defence described the prosecution as "belated, misconceived and excessive".

Hamza claimed the case against him was politically motivated and the police made up a case out of nothing.

They had arrested him back in 1999 when they had taken away 725 tapes, some of which were of a similar nature to those in the current case.

They had also taken away the Encyclopaedia Of The Afghani Jihad, but no action was taken against him at the time.

However, the prosecution was later to rely on the encyclopaedia, alleging it was a terrorism "manual".

Hamza said it had been a gift and he had not read it. He dismissed a prosecution question asking whether there were Jihad (struggle to establish Islam) training camps in the UK as "a silly idea".

After he was arrested last year he declared: "I have never wanted to or encouraged anyone to hurt British people."

The cleric said he was victim of a witch hunt by the media. "There is a hate campaign which has taken place against me."

However, security sources say Finsbury Park mosque became a breeding ground for terrorism during the six years of Hamza's "controlling influence" there.

Dozens of anti-terrorism investigations led detectives back to the building, which became known as a first port of call, a meeting place and a haven for terror suspects arriving and operating in the UK.

The list of those linked to the mosque features the names of some of the most dangerous terrorists to have been captured by the authorities in recent years.

The shoebomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged "20th" 9/11 hijacker, were among the angry young Muslims who went there.

Hamza, as its central figure, wielded a powerful influence over those who passed through its doors.

Many were even dossing down at the mosque for a time - including the police killer and al Qaida suspect Kamel Bourgass - as it became a hotbed of extremism.

Anti-terrorist detectives say that, much like a spider's web, many of their investigations into extremist activity pointed them in the direction of the mosque.

A senior police source said: "I do not think it is a co-incidence that so many terrorist investigations have led us to that building during that time."