Abu Hamza supporter given 20 years in US

  • 17/10/2015
Prison (File)
Prison (File)

By Jennie Matthew

A Briton convicted over an attempt to set up a jihad training camp in the US on orders from hate preacher Abu Hamza has been sentenced to 20 years in prison in New York.

Haroon Aswat, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, cut a despondent figure in the Manhattan federal court, dressed in a faded prison shirt and wearing his long dark hair plaited in braids.

The 41-year-old has already spent 11 years in custody meaning that he could qualify for early release in six years. His lawyer said he would apply for Aswat to serve out his sentence in Britain.

First arrested in Zambia in 2005, Aswat was extradited last year to the United States where he pleaded guilty in March to one count of providing material support to al-Qaeda and one count of conspiring to support the terror group.

In a brief statement, Aswat apologised for breaking US law and causing "distress" to friends and family, and said he looked forward to finding a wife, and settling down.

He said he opposed violence against innocent people and recited a prayer learnt in childhood, opening his statement in Arabic in the name of God and closing with a simple "amen."

In 1999-2000, Aswat spent about two months in Seattle and Bly, Oregon at the behest of the radical London cleric Abu Hamza as part of a plot to set up a training camp for recruits wanting to fight in Afghanistan.

Following his return to London, he travelled to Afghanistan and Pakistan in mid-2001 in order to attend a training camp.

Prosecutors depicted Aswat as a man "at the right-hand of Abu Hamza" with a thirst for violent jihad who kept "a host of disturbing literature" on his computer.

Aswat came to the United States "at the direction of one of the world's most dangerous terrorist leaders" and could pose a danger when he is released, prosecutors argued on Friday.

Aswat was previously held at Broadmoor, a high-security British psychiatric hospital.

His lawyer Peter Quijano told the court his client never tried to join al-Qaeda, describing him as a "child-like" individual who embraced a "hippy lifestyle" and "self-medicated" with marijuana.

After the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, Aswat fled to South Africa, where he had family, and embarked on a life as an itinerant salesman of pirated CDs of Islamic chants and prayer, said the defence lawyer.

Quijano told reporters he would request his client's transfer to Britain, where Aswat's parents are based.