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British Imam Found Guilty In Terrorism Trial

By John Riley, Newsday

NEW YORK — Abu Hamza al-Masri, the handless one-eyed British imam whose incendiary Islamist rhetoric made him a lightning rod for controversy in the aftermath of September 11, was convicted Monday on terrorism charges in a federal court in Manhattan.

On their second day of deliberation after a five-week trial, jurors found the radical cleric guilty of conspiring in a deadly kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in 1998, trying to set up a jihad training camp in Oregon and aiding al-Qaida.

The verdict came despite testimony by Abu Hamza that he was a peacemaker who never favored violence against innocents, and arguments from his defense team that he was being punished for violent rhetoric without evidence of criminal acts.

Abu Hamza, 56, an Egypt-born former strip-club bouncer also known as Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, faces up to life in prison.

He was convicted on all 11 counts including conspiracy and providing material support to terrorist groups.

While he headed London’s Finsbury Park mosque, it attracted worshippers such as Richard Reid, who later tried to bomb an airliner by igniting explosives in his shoes, and alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui.

Abu Hamza was arrested in 2004, convicted of soliciting murder in Britain, and extradited in 2012 to the United States.

Photo: Mtchlra via Flickr
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Cleric Testifies He Was ‘A Mouthpiece,’ Not A Terrorist

By John Riley, Newsday

NEW YORK — Abu Hamza al-Masri testified at his terrorism trial Monday that he was merely a “mouthpiece” for Islamist movements and compared his role to Irish political leader Gerry Adams’ as an IRA front man.

“I was acting as a mouthpiece, like Gerry Adams,” he said. “And like Gerry Adams . . . you can’t afford to do anything that is not legal and transparent.”

The testimony came as the imam, who once headed London’s Finsbury Park mosque, denied his alleged role in the deadly 1998 kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen and said he regretted the death of four hostages when troops attacked.

“Every life is valuable,” said Abu Hamza, also known as Mostafa Kamel Mostafa, appearing for a third day as a witness at his trial in federal court. “It’s a disaster from every direction. Innocent people are not to be touched.”

The cleric, a one-eyed double amputee born in Egypt, is charged with helping the anti-government group that mounted the 1998 kidnap plot to get Yemen to release prisoners, trying to create jihad training camp in Bly, Ore, and assisting al-Qaida and the Taliban.

In detailed testimony that even he admitted was sometimes “rambling,” Abu Hamza not only denied the charges, but also tried to rebut each piece of evidence.

Confronted with posts on his London website warning tourists to stay away from Yemen in 1998, for example, he said they were not warnings of a plot, but rather were generic Islamist revolutionary propaganda issued to show “government is not in control.”

He admitted that the kidnappers used a satellite phone that came from him. But he said he had sent it to a tribal “operator” as part of a moneymaking plan to charge for its use, and the anti-government group was supposed to use it only to send him media statements.

He also acknowledged speaking to the head kidnapper just a few hours after the hostages were taken, but said he knew it was a disaster in the making and urged the kidnappers to let the hostages call their embassies and generate diplomatic resistance to an attack.

“I was trying to make sure that the government of Yemen did not do anything undesirable,” he testified.

He also insisted that two years later, when surviving hostage Mary Quin confronted him and taped an interview with him in London, he referred to the kidnappers as “we” because Arab habits of pronoun usage differ from native English speakers.

“This is the way the Arab speaks,” Abu Hamza testified, explaining why he told Quin, “We never thought it would be that bad.”

Cross examination is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Photo: Aamir Qureshi via AFP

Judge Rejects Man’s Manslaughter Plea In Death Of Motivational Speaker

By John Riley, Newsday

NEW YORK — The Harlem man who helped indebted motivational speaker Jeffrey Locker kill himself in 2009 tried to plead guilty to manslaughter on Tuesday, but a judge in Manhattan state court refused to allow it.

Kenneth Minor, whose murder conviction was reversed last year due to incorrect jury instructions on the defense of assisting suicide, tried to enter the plea in his latest bid to avoid being tried for murder again.

District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office has indicted Minor for both murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 7 to 15 years. Prosecutors want a jury to have the option of choosing between the two.

State Supreme Court Justice Laura Ward told Minor and his lawyer, Daniel Gotlin, that she wouldn’t allow a guilty plea to manslaughter, because it might then be used to block trial on the murder charge as a violation of the Constitution’s double jeopardy ban.

“The court cannot legally accept a guilty plea to one count of a consolidated indictment,” the judge said.

“Causing or aiding” a suicide is second-degree manslaughter in New York, and it is a defense to a murder charge.

But Vance has taken the position that because Locker hired Minor to help stab him to death in a life insurance scheme, it is not the kind of “mercy killing” the assisted suicide law was designed for.

Minor, sentenced to 20 years to life on the murder conviction that has now been reversed, has already served five years. He remains in jail awaiting his new trial.

Gotlin said after the hearing that he’s still negotiating with prosecutors and is hopeful a deal can be reached that focuses on the appropriate amount of prison time in light of the lack of a real victim, instead of the symbolism of whether it is manslaughter or murder.

“They’re concerned about precedent,” he said. “But a case like this never happened before and the likelihood of it happening again is zero. It’s like an asteroid hitting the Earth.”

Locker, 53, a married father of three, acquired $12 million in life insurance just before his death, but he needed to make it look like murder because the policies would not pay out for suicide. His bloody body was found in his car in Harlem on July 16, 2009.

Photo: Wallyg via Flickr

Bernard Madoff In ’07 Video: It’s Tough To Get Away With Fraud

By John Riley, Newsday

NEW YORK — Jurors in the federal trial of five former aides to Bernard Madoff saw a videotape of the Ponzi schemer telling a forum on the future of the securities industry that it was “virtually impossible” to get away with fraud, as the 4-month trial neared its finish Monday.

“It is impossible for a violation to go undetected, certainly not for a considerable period of time,” Madoff said in his remarks in 2007, near the end of what prosecutors say was a three-decade-long scam that cheated investors out of nearly $20 billion.

The five defendants, charged with helping Madoff mislead investors and regulators, contend that they were duped. A lawyer for Joann Crupi, a former account manager, played the video to try to show jurors how effective and brazen Madoff was as a liar.

Prosecutors contended his comments on a panel of academic and stock market experts were irrelevant. But the defense argued that jurors should at least once hear from the man at the heart of the case. U.S. District Judge Laura Swain in Manhattan approved three excerpts.

“When you consider the volumes of trading — I mean, our firm for example we trade an excess of $1 trillion a year and that’s one firm — and you look at what we would consider to be the infractions, they’re relatively small, primarily because of all the regulation,” a relaxed and confident Madoff said in one excerpt.

Besides Crupi, 52, of Westfield, N.J., the defendants are Madoff’s former secretary Annette Bongiorno, 65, of Manhasset, N.Y.; operations manager Dan Bonventre, 66, of Manhattan; and computer programmers Jerome O’Hara, 50, of Malverne, N.Y., and George Perez, 47, of East Brunswick, N.J.

Bonventre and Bongiorno took the stand on their own behalf to try to rebut months of testimony from a half-dozen ex-colleagues who have pleaded guilty and said the defendants enabled Madoff’s fraud by helping him cut corners and fudge account statements.

The other three have signaled they do not plan to testify, and Swain said she expects testimony in the case — which began Oct. 16 — to wrap up Tuesday. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin later this week.

Photo: Sebastian Alvarez via Flickr