Witness in U.S. terror trial of London cleric spared prison

by Reuters
Friday, 23 October 2015 18:21 GMT

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK, Oct 23 (Reuters) - A former follower of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri avoided prison on Friday after providing what a U.S. prosecutor said was over a decade of "unprecedented" cooperation in terrorism investigations that led to the conviction of his onetime mentor.

James Ujaama, 49, was sentenced to time served by U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan after testifying last year at Abu Hamza's trial about his role trying to establish a training camp that prosecutors said was aimed at supporting al Qaeda.

"After you leave this courtroom today, you will leave this matter behind you," Forrest said.

Ujaama, who already spent six years in prison, initially pleaded guilty in 2003 in federal court in Seattle, where he lived, to conspiring to provide goods and services to the Taliban and agreed to cooperate.

Out of prison, he fled to Belize in 2006 in violation of the plea deal, an act Forrest attributed to his fear of testifying. Following his arrest, Ujaama pleaded guilty in 2007 to more serious terrorism-related charges but continued cooperating.

He testified in 2014 against Abu Hamza, who was convicted on terrorism-related charges and sentenced in January to life in prison.

Ujaama also cooperated against two of Abu Hamza's followers, Oussama Abdullah Kassir, who following a trial was sentenced in 2009 to life in prison, and Haroon Aswat, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced last week to 20 years in prison.

Prosecutor John Cronan said that testimony was only a fraction of Ujaama's overall cooperation, which largely remains confidential.

"The cooperation here was extraordinary, largely unprecedented, and the court should sentence him accordingly," Cronan said.

At Abu Hamza's trial, Ujaama testified that he discussed with Abu Hamza in 1999 creating a training camp in Bly, Oregon, which prosecutors said was intended to support al Qaeda.

In a fax to Abu Hamza, Ujaama said the land "looks just like Afghanistan," and that Oregon was a "pro-militia and fire-arms state" where stockpiling weapons for training would be easy.

Following that fax, Abu Hamza directed Aswat and Kassir, both of whom lived in London, to travel to Oregon to assist establishing the camp, prosecutors said.

Peter Offenbecher, Ujaama's lawyer, said his client intended to assist the Taliban, not al Qaeda.

Ujaama is studying for a doctorate and in court said he wanted "to move on with my life."

"I wish I had never gotten involved with Abu Hamza, and I think he's a bad man," he said. (Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.