Abu Hamza, the radical Muslim cleric, was jailed for seven years yesterday after an Old Bailey jury found him guilty of incitement to murder, stirring up racial hatred and possessing a document useful to terrorism.
Mr Justice Hughes said that Hamza had used his authority “to legitimise anger” and make killing seem “a moral and religious duty in pursuit of perceived justice”.
Hamza, 47, refused to stand as he was sentenced and afterwards his followers shouted words of support from the public gallery.
Security sources described him as a key figure in the global Islamic terrorist movement. He was convicted on 11 of 15 charges after four days of deliberations by the jury.
Peter Clarke, the head of Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorist branch, said the Finsbury Park Mosque, in north London, where the handless Hamza preached, was “almost like a honey pot for extremists”. It had become a breeding ground for terrorism.
Only now can it be disclosed that when police raided the mosque in 2003 they found an arsenal of weapons and equipment which they believe were to be used in terrorist training camps in Britain.
It included blank firing pistols which could easily have been converted to fire live rounds, a stun gun, knives, CS gas and chemical and nuclear warfare protection suits. Dozens of forged documents, driving licences and passports had been hidden behind ceiling tiles. In the basement was a dormitory for followers to sleep overnight.
“It is the kind of material which could have been used at training camps, probably in the UK,” a senior police source said. “Hamza clearly had a controlling influence at the mosque and the location where we found this equipment would have made it very difficult for him not to know it was there.”
Hamza’s solicitor, Muddassar Arani, who visited him in the cells at the Old Bailey after sentence, said the trial had been politically motivated and the sentence would be “a slow martyrdom for him”.
Ministers welcomed the jailing of Hamza as an indication that, despite worries about curbs on free speech, the courts were prepared to back the Government’s tougher line on those preaching religious extremism and advocating terrorism.
Downing Street said his conviction should reassure the public that the Government was determined to uphold the law at a time when racial and religious tensions had been inflamed by the controversy over Danish cartoons mocking Mohammed.
Tony Blair told MPs that “political correctness” would not stand in the way of prosecuting any Muslim protesters who broke the law.
He acknowledged that there was a justifiable sense of “outrage” at extremist placards brandished at demonstrations in London last weekend against the cartoons and promised the Government’s full backing for any future police action.
Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, said he understood the anger people felt over the demonstrations and promised to support the “toughest” measures to keep the country safe. Casting aside normal ministerial caution on court cases, he told the BBC that the jailing of Hamza was “very important”.
He said: “There can be no toleration for preachers of hate who call for violence, who call for murder, who abuse their citizenship of Britain. We have got to take action in the interest of both national security and defending the true Islam religion, in defence of moderate Islamists as against extreme Islam.”
Members of the jury had watched 20 hours of video tapes recorded by Hamza’s followers in which he described Britain as the “inside of a toilet” and urged them to kill “kaffirs”, or non-believers.
They were not told that the police had linked the mosque to dozens of terrorists. They included Zacarias Moussaoui, the “20th member of the September 11 hijackers”, the shoe bombers Richard Reid and Saajid Badat, and the killer of Det-Con Stephen Oake, Kamel Bourgass, who was also convicted of a plot to produce the poison ricin.
The tapes that jury members watched were among 570 video and 2,700 audio tapes found when police raided Hamza’s home in Shepherd’s Bush, west London.
Officers also found a 10-volume Encyclopaedia of Afghani Jihad, which was dedicated to Osama bin Laden and suggested potential targets in Britain and abroad, including Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty. It included diagrams on how to build bombs and how to launch an assassination.
Volume six, on bomb-making, was missing and Mr Justice Hughes said he was satisfied that it had been lent to somebody.
Hamza was unanimously found guilty of six counts of soliciting to murder, three of using threatening behaviour and two of distributing threatening recordings and possessing a document useful to terrorists.
He was sentenced to seven years for soliciting to murder and concurrent terms of 21 months for stirring racial hatred and three years for distributing tapes and possessing the encyclopaedia. He intends to appeal.