Jurors follow facts to London imam's conviction

 Foreman says jury relied on evidence such as taped interview during monthlong trial 

By Larry Neumeister and Tom Hays
Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Jurors kept emotions about terrorism out of deliberations over the fate of an Egyptian Islamic cleric extradited from London to face terrorism charges, says the jury foreman who announced guilty verdicts.

“I never had 9/11 enter into my decision-making process,” the foreman, Howard Bailynson, said as he stood outside the Manhattan federal courthouse just blocks from the World Trade Center site after Monday’s verdict finding imam Mustafa Kamel Mustafa guilty of all charges.

During a monthlong trial, jurors heard a tape in which Mustafa said, “Everybody was happy when the planes hit the World Trade Center.”

The jury deliberated two days before concluding Mustafa, 56, provided material support to terrorist organizations by giving a satellite phone to kidnappers of tourists in Yemen in 1998, supporting plans to open an al-Qaida training camp in Bly, Oregon, and sending someone to an Afghanistan training camp.

As he had after the conviction two months earlier of al-Qaida’s spokesman following the Sept. 11 attacks, Attorney General Eric Holder used the verdict to boast that civil courts were better than military tribunals for terrorism cases.

“His conviction is as just as it was swift,” Holder said. “With each efficiently delivered guilty verdict against a top al Qaida-linked figure, the debate over how to best seek justice in these cases is quietly being put to rest.”

Bailynson said jurors relied on such factual evidence as a taped interview of Mustafa conducted later by one of the hostages in the Yemen kidnapping rather than footage of him delivering the kind of fiery sermons that attracted extremists to his London mosque, reportedly including both Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid. Mustafa denied ever meeting them.

Bailynson, a 44-year-old Xerox Corp. employee from suburban Westchester County, said Mustafa “was not tried on his words.”

Joshua Dratel, a defense attorney, disagreed, saying the verdict was “not about the evidence but about a visceral reaction to the defendant.”

“It’s unfortunate that’s what happened, and it’s what we feared,” he added.

Sentencing was set for Sept. 9, when Mustafa likely faces life in prison.

The imam was extradited in 2012 from England, where he led London’s Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s.

When he testified at his trial, Mustafa was calm, speaking confidently in the tone of a college professor while denying involvement in terrorism or aiding al-Qaida.

His testimony was derided by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ian McGinley, who warned jurors not to “be fooled.”

In his closing, McGinley read aloud the names of four European tourists who died in 1998 in Yemen after their convoy of cars was overtaken by extremist Islamic kidnappers. McGinley said a guilty verdict would provide a measure of justice for them and another dozen hostages who survived.

“Don’t let the passage of time diminish what he did,” he said.

Referred to by prosecutors and defense lawyers alike by his alias, Abu Hamza al-Masri, Mustafa told jurors about losing both hands, an eye and part of his forearms in a 1993 accident when he helped the Pakistani military as a civil engineer.

Two former hostages in Yemen also testified.

The government played clips of the taped interview Mustafa did with Mary Quin, a U.S. citizen who now lives in New Zealand, conducted with Mustafa in his London mosque as she prepared to write a book about the kidnapping. McGinley told jurors Mustafa boasted to Quin about the kidnappings, saying: “Islamically, it is a good thing.”

McGinley said that statement belied Mustafa’s claims that when he spoke to the lead kidnapper during the crisis, he tried to be a peacemaker.

“No one who actually tried to be a peacemaker would say to a victim of that kidnapping that it was a good thing,” he said.

Bailynson, the juror, called Quin, who also had worked for Xerox, a “great woman” for confronting Mustafa with a tape recorder.

He said it took “an extreme amount of courage on her behalf.”

And he cited statements she elicited from Mustafa indicating he had known in advance of the hostage taking as influential on the jury.

“He never planned on it being part of the case against him,” Bailynson said.