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Yemeni sheik's terror conviction thrown out

  • Story Highlights
  • Mohammed Ali al-Moayad, aide were convicted of supporting terrorism
  • Court says prejudicial evidence denied pair a fair trial
  • Al-Moayad, Zayed may be retried or cases may be dismissed
  • Witness said al-Moayad boasted about giving money to Osama bin Laden
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A New York appeals court Thursday overturned terrorism convictions for a Yemeni cleric and his personal assistant, saying they did not receive a fair trial.

Sheik Mohammed Ali al-Moayad and Mohammed Mohsen Zayed, were sentenced in 2005 to 75 and 45 years in prison, respectively, after being convicted of conspiring to provide material support and resources to foreign terrorist organizations. They now can have new trials under a different judge.

The lawyer for al-Moayad, Robert Boyle, said, "I'm extremely gratified at the court's decision. I believe it is legally and factually correct. I hope my client, who is elderly and not in good health, will be given the opportunity to return to his family in Yemen."

The three-judge panel was unanimous in its decision, citing evidentiary errors that likely influenced the outcome of the trial. The judges found that certain pieces of evidence presented by prosecutors were prejudicial and had the effect of denying al-Moayad and Zayed a fair trial.

Zayed and al-Moayad were arrested in 2003 in a sting operation that culminated in Germany. The government's case relied largely on secretly videotaped conversations between the defendants and a pair of undercover FBI informants at a Frankfurt hotel in 2003. One of the informants, Mohamed Alanssi, testified that al-Moayad boasted about giving money, weapons and recruits to al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The charges were brought in the Eastern District of New York because al-Moayad allegedly collected terrorist funds at the al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn.

Now that the appeals court has vacated the convictions, prosecutors have the option of appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court if they feel there is a constitutional issue. They can retry the case or move to dismiss.

Al-Moayad, who is in his 60s, is incarcerated at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, as is Zayed. Boyle said he had called the prison and as of 4 p.m. Thursday was still waiting to speak to his client.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick contributed to this report.

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