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UK cleric sentenced to 7 years in prison


Abu Hamza al-Masri
Crime, Law and Justice

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been sentenced to seven years in prison after being found guilty on 11 terror-related charges, including soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.

Judge Anthony Hughes told a London court Tuesday that the Egyptian-born cleric -- who could have received a maximum sentence of life -- had help to convince his followers that they had a "moral and religious duty" to kill.

The judge sentenced al-Masri to serve seven years in prison for six counts of soliciting murder. That sentence will run concurrent with other, lesser prison sentences handed down by the judge for the other five convictions.

Al-Masri's attorney, Mudassar Arani, said her client planned to appeal the guilty verdicts "on numerous grounds."

She said the verdicts "have not been without hope despite the massive media campaign against Sheikh Abu Hamza." But she said her client believed the prosecutor's case was "politically motivated."

"Sheikh Abu Hamza considers himself to be a prisoner of faith," Arani said.

Al-Masri, 47, also faces 11 terror-related charges in the United States, and an extradition hearing -- which was put on hold in 2004 for his trial in Britain -- is expected to resume after he serves his prison term or if his appeal is granted.

The United States is "ready to resume" extradition proceedings, Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra said.

According to Britain's Home Office, extradition proceedings cannot continue until al-Masri has exhausted all avenues for his appeal, which could take several months.

If his appeals are denied, al-Masri could have his jail sentence interrupted to be extradited and stand trial in the United States, according to the Home Office.

If he is given a prison sentence following a U.S. trial, he would return to England to complete the rest of his sentence there before flying back to be imprisoned in the United States.

The U.S. charges include conspiracy in connection with a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen and conspiring with others to establish an Islamic jihad, or holy war, training camp in rural Bly, Oregon, in 1999.

Al-Masri planned to fight the extradition case, as well, Arani said.

Al-Masri, who has alleged ties to the al Qaeda network, formerly preached at the Finsbury Park Mosque in London.

His followers included the so-called "shoe bomber," Richard Reid -- who was convicted of trying to light a bomb in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to be charged in the United States in connection with the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The material al-Masri was convicted of possessing included a 10-volume "encyclopedia" of Afghani jihad, which prosecutor David Perry described as "a manual for terrorism." The texts discussed how to make explosives, explained assassination methods and detailed the best means of attack.

Al-Masri was also convicted of possessing eight video and audio recordings, which prosecutors said he intended to distribute to stir up racial hatred. In all, police seized some 2,700 audio tapes and about 570 video tapes from two addresses -- one of them al-Masri's home - during raids in 2003.

Al-Masri, who lost both hands and one eye working in Afghanistan, is the highest-profile radical Islamic figure in Britain.

Both non-Muslims and Muslims condemned his preaching, which include praising the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, calling al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a hero, and describing the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster as punishment from Allah because the astronauts were Christian, Hindu and Jewish.

"We shall never know how much pain and suffering Hamza and his followers have caused," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Peter Clarke in a statement released after al-Masri's sentencing. "We do know his words have caused anguish and fear among many communities."

Clarke, who heads the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorist Branch, stressed that al-Masri's trial was not a conviction of Britain's Muslim community.

"This was Abu Hamza on trial, not Islam, not the Muslim community," he said. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims totally reject the hatred and violence peddled by Hamza. For many years, most people have found Hamza deeply offensive.

"We have now been able to show that what he was saying was also illegal."

-- CNN's Mallika Kapur, Paula Hancocks and Jonathan Wald contributed to this report

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