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U.S. jury begins deliberating in trial of London imam Abu Hamza

Radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri addresses the sixth annual rally for Islam in Trafalgar Square, London, August 25, 2002. REU
Radical Muslim cleric Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri addresses the sixth annual rally for Islam in Trafalgar Square, London, August 25, 2002. REU

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The fate of London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri is in the hands of a New York jury, which began deliberating on Thursday on whether to convict him on terrorism-related charges.

The one-eyed, handless preacher faces 11 criminal counts, including assisting Yemeni militants who took a group of Western tourists hostage in 1998. U.S. prosecutors have also charged him with sending followers to Oregon to establish a training camp and to Afghanistan to assist al Qaeda and the Taliban.

If convicted of the top charges, he faces life in prison. The 12 jurors began their discussions shortly after U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest finished delivering a 115-page jury instruction.

The Egyptian-born Abu Hamza, 56, took the stand in his own defense during the four-week trial, acknowledging he used inflammatory language in speeches, interviews and sermons but denying he had any involvement in criminal conspiracies.

In closing arguments on Wednesday, a U.S. prosecutor warned the jury not to believe his testimony. Abu Hamza had overseen a global campaign of violent jihad, dispatching followers to wage battle in accordance with his extremist beliefs, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley said.

Abu Hamza's lawyer, Jeremy Schneider, argued that the imam had been targeted for prosecution because of his words, not his actions.

Abu Hamza built a reputation as one of Britain's most prominent radical imams at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. British officials say his fiery sermons drew high-profile militants like Richard Reid, the Briton who tried to blow up a jetliner in 2001 using a bomb hidden in his shoe.

Abu Hamza was convicted in Britain of inciting violence and spent eight years in prison before being extradited in 2012 to the United States, where he was indicted in 2004 under his birth name of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa.

Abu Hamza testified that he lost his hands and eye in an accidental explosion in Pakistan two decades ago. Previous media accounts had reported that he was hurt in Afghanistan while fighting with the mujahideen against the military of the Soviet Union.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Grant McCool)

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