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British Jury Convicts Muslim Preacher of Soliciting Murder


A British jury has convicted a radical Muslim cleric of soliciting the murder of non-Muslims and a judge has sentenced him to seven years in prison. The man, Abu Hamza al-Masri, is also wanted by the United States on terrorism-related charges.

The conviction of al-Masri culminates years of investigation into the activities of Britain's most prominent Muslim preacher.

A London jury has found him guilty of 11 counts ranging from solicitation of murder of non-Muslims to stirring up racial hatred against Jews and possessing what prosecutors described as a "terrorist manual."

Until 2003, the Egyptian-born al-Masri was based at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, a place where suspected al-Qaida-linked terrorists had prayed.

Among those who attended the mosque are convicted "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is awaiting sentencing as the so-called "20th hijacker" in the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

One London-based expert on terrorism, M.J. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, says al-Masri has led followers into what he calls "a world of extremism and terrorism."

"He provides the doorway to the jihadi groups around the world because a number of those al-Qaida-linked terrorists did pass through the Finsbury Park mosque when he used to preach there," he said.

Al-Masri also is wanted in the United States on a number of charges, including the attempted establishment of a terrorist training camp in the northwestern state of Oregon.

His possible extradition to face trial on those charges is now expected to remain suspended while he considers an appeal and serves his sentence in Britain.

The 47-year-old al-Masri is handicapped, having lost his hands and one eye to what he says was a mine-clearing operation when he was supporting anti-Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Other sources say he was injured while building a bomb.

During his trial, al-Masri said the charges against him were politically motivated. His lawyer had argued that al-Masri never intended to incite people to commit specific crimes.