Joshua Dratel, left, Mustafa’s defense attorney, outside the federal courthouse Monday. U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, right, speaks to the media after the jury found Mustafa guilty on all counts. (NYLJ/Mark Hamblett)
Mustafa Kamel Mustafa was convicted Monday on all counts of providing material support to terror groups by sending men to train for violent jihad and backing the kidnapping of tourists in Yemen.
The Muslim preacher who cheered the World Trade Center attacks from his position as the lead imam at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, slumped only slightly in his chair as the jury in Southern District Judge Katherine Forrest’s courtroom confirmed they had all voted guilty on 11 counts.
Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, was led from the courtroom, leaving defense attorneys Joshua Dratel and Jeremy Schneider to focus on Sept. 9, when their client faces a life sentence from Forrest for aiding al Qaida, the Taliban, and some of his followers in Yemen whose 1998 kidnapping in a hostages-for-prisoners scheme ended with the death of four tourists.
“The verdict was not about the evidence but about a visceral reaction to the defendant,” Dratel said afterwards. “It’s unfortunate that’s what happened and it’s what we feared.”
The verdict came during the second full day of deliberations, and it was the second of two back-to-back terrorism wins for prosecutors at the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s office.
In March, Osama bin Laden son-in-law and al Qaida spokesman Sulaiman Abu Ghayth was convicted for serving as a propagandist and recruiter for al Qaida (NYLJ, March 27).
Assistant U.S. Attorneys John Cronan, who also worked the Abu Ghayth trial, Edward Kim and Ian McGinley were able to secure the guilty verdicts with several tapes of Mustafa’s speeches, statements he made in interviews, and the testimony of cooperators about the attempt to establish a terror training camp in Bly, Oregon and send men to Afghanistan for training as well.
Particularly effective was the testimony of Mary Quin, a dual U.S.-New Zealand citizen who was used as a human shield during the hostage-taking in Yemen, and who interviewed Mustafa at the Finsbury Park mosque nine months after her dramatic struggle with a wounded kidnapper.
Quin got Mustafa to admit, on tape, that he provided a satellite phone to the kidnappers and that he knew she was part of a hostages-for-prisoners swap.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, standing in front of the prosecution team outside of 500 Pearl Street after the verdict, praised the men and women in his office for the long fight to extradite Mustafa from England and successfully bring him to trial in New York.
“Abu Hamza, as the trial showed, attempted to portray himself as a preacher of faith but he was instead a trainer of terrorists,” Bharara said.
Bharara also invoked the 9/11 attacks and the office’s ability to win terror convictions “in case after case after case.”
Mustafa, who lost both his hands in what he claimed was an accident while making explosives to create earthworks to block roads at the behest of the Pakistani military in early 1990s, wanted to deliver his own opening statement in the case but was denied by Forrest.
He nonetheless took the witness stand, where he charged the prosecution was trying to convict him only on words, insisted he never inspired a single violent act and objected that he was being charged in the United States for the same statements he made in London that led to his 2006 conviction for solicitation to murder and other charges in Great Britain.
The jury should be told about “the hallucination of all these charges,” he said.
But Mustafa’s credibility was badly damaged when he dissembled about helping the Yemeni hostage takers, buying them the phone and taking calls from the lead kidnapper both before and during the hostage crisis that climaxed with a gun battle by Yemeni forces.
Mustafa did little to advance his insistence that he was only playing a mediator’s role or to undermine the prosecution’s evidence that his stepson was one of a group British citizens who were arrested for anti-Yemeni government activities just five days before the kidnapping—one of the fighters that the kidnappers hoped to swap for the hostages.
He also admitted he advocated violence against the Russians but merely directed oratory against the U.S. and its allies, a distinction that apparently made no impression on the jury. And he did not help his case by trying to explain away comments about unbelievers or infidels, non-Muslims, whom he said could be killed or sold into slavery.
Dratel said afterwards that he and Schneider have several avenues of appeal, starting with Forrest’s decision to allow into evidence the fact of Mustafa’s prior convictions in London.
He said they will also challenge on appeal the “putting in of all the incendiary, inflammatory statements, in volume, without a sufficient connection to the conduct that’s charged.”
Dratel said another avenue was Forrest’s refusal to “let us get into his [Mustafa's] dialogue with British intelligence” which the defense hoped would help prove their theory that British authorities used Mustafa as a moderating, mediating influence over his more radical followers.
“It’s asymmetrical,” he said.
Speaking to reporters outside after the verdict, jury foreman Howard Bailynson said Mustafa “was not tried on his words.”
Bailynson, a Westchester County resident, said “the prosecutors showed evidence to his guilt” and “the satellite phone ending up in Yemen” played a large role in the jury’s verdict.