February 7, 2006

British Muslim cleric guilty of inciting murder

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) - The most prominent British Muslim cleric
to stand trial on terrorism charges since the September 11,
2001 attacks on the United States was found guilty by a London
court on Tuesday of 11 counts including inciting murder.

Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Masri was also convicted of
stirring up racial hatred and possessing a handbook "of use to
terrorists." He could face life in prison.

The incitement to murder charges stemmed from sermons he
delivered to his followers, mostly in the late 1990s, when his
Finsbury Park mosque in North London was seen as a hotbed of
radicalism, attracting followers from all over Europe.

Among those who worshipped there were convicted
"shoebomber" Richard Reid, who tried to blow up an airliner
over the Atlantic, and "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui, now
fighting the death penalty after pleading guilty to conspiracy
charges related to the September 11 attacks.

Hamza, who lost both hands and an eye in Afghanistan, is
still wanted by the United States on charges of trying to set
up a "terrorist training camp" in the state of Oregon.

The Finsbury Park mosque helped earn the British capital
the nickname "Londonistan" among European security services who
felt Britain was too tolerant toward radical Muslim clerics.

In addition to the cases of Reid and Moussaoui, the mosque
was a base for Kamel Bourgass, convicted last year in a
conspiracy to launch chemical attacks with the poison ricin,
and British suicide bombers who flew to Israel to attack a bar.

But despite immigration cases that tried to strip him of
British citizenship for supporting Osama bin Laden, and high
profile raids on the mosque, British police never tied any of
those criminal cases directly to Abu Hamza.

A police source said before the verdicts were announced at
the Old Bailey court: "We don't think that it's a coincidence
but we don't have any evidence (to link Hamza to them) or he'd
be facing a charge of directing terrorism."

"To say he's divorced from operational terrorism activity
would probably be wrong. We're not saying he's the leader of
global jihad but he is definitely part of that movement."