NEW YORK – A Yemeni sheik and his assistant were convicted Thursday of plotting to channel money to Al Qaeda (search) and Hamas, handing a victory to prosecutors shaken last year when the man who was supposed to be their star witness set himself on fire outside the White House.
Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan Al-Moayad and Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed were found guilty on all but two of the 10 charges in an indictment that accused them of vital roles in a terror-funding network that stretched from Brooklyn to Yemen.
To view the charges against the two, click here.
Meeting with FBI informants in a Frankfurt, Germany, hotel room, the men were secretly recorded promising to funnel more than $2 million to Hamas (search), the Palestinian extremist group that has carried out bombings against Israel.
Al-Moayad was also heard boasting that Usama bin Laden (search) had once called him "my sheik."
Prosecutors said Al-Moayad could face 75 years behind bars and Zayed could face 45 years for conspiring to support Hamas and Al Qaeda and related charges. Defense attorneys said they planned to appeal.
After the verdict was announced, the defendants cried out in Arabic that the trial had been unfair.
Al-Moayad, 56, shouted in Arabic that jurors saw only "one half of one quarter" of the surveillance tapes that made up the bulk of the government's case. He was rushed from the room by U.S. marshals.
"I want another lawyer in order to defend my case because the jury did not fully study my case," Zayed, 31, told U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. in Arabic.
The convictions of both defendants, who were arrested by German police in 2003 and extradited to the United States, "mark another important step" in the war on terrorism, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (search) said Thursday.
"Those who conspire to support and finance the terrorist actions of Al Qaeda and other enemies will be found, and they will face justice," he said.
The case caused outrage in Yemen, where Al-Moayad is a well-known cleric and high-ranking member of the Islamist opposition Islah party.
During the five-week trial, prosecutors said Al-Moayad supported Hamas bombings in Israel and helped funnel Islamist fighters to Al Qaeda in Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was secretly recorded showing the FBI informants receipts for donations that he said he made to charities acting as front groups for Palestinian terrorists.
Five of the jurors in the case, whose names were kept secret for safety reasons, told reporters after the verdict that they had been convinced almost entirely by what Al-Moayad and Zayed said and did during four days of secretly recorded conversations in the Frankfurt hotel.
The case was roiled in November when one of the informants who met the defendants in Germany, Mohamed Alanssi, set himself on fire outside the White House. The government decided not to use him as a witness, but the defense called him to the stand to try to undermine the prosecution's case. He testified that he burned himself to gain more money and attention from the FBI.
But the jurors who spoke with reporters said Alanssi's testimony made very little difference to their deliberations, and that much of the prosecution evidence gathered outside of the German sting operation was inconclusive and relatively unimportant. They said they were convinced by the defendants' behavior and their familiarity on the recordings with the names of high-ranking members of Hamas.
"Not once did they say, 'We're not interested in doing this,'" one juror said of the defendants. "They were relaxed; they were comfortable."
Other evidence presented by prosecutors included address books and a training-camp entry form tying the defendant to Islamist fighters in Bosnia and Al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan.
Al-Moayad's lawyer William Goodman said after the verdict that the case "was designed and carried out in a way that played upon the worst possible fears of the American public."
Jurors, however, said they were unpersuaded, and occasionally offended, by defense suggestions that the recordings were a government "reality show" that attempted to play on anti-Muslim prejudices.
More than 100 people have been charged with supporting terrorism since Sept. 11, 2001, Justice Department officials said. Al-Moayad is among the few arrested overseas to face trial in the United States.