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Mentally Ill British Man Faces U.S. Prison Term over Islamist Militant Camp in Oregon

( [email protected] ) Oct 16, 2015 10:04 AM EDT
A mentally ill British man who U.S. authorities say helped try to set up a training camp in Oregon in 1999 for Islamist militants faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Friday in New York.
Israel police detain an Israeli Arab man during clashes in Nazareth at northern Israel, October 10, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

A mentally ill British man who U.S. authorities say helped try to set up a training camp in Oregon in 1999 for Islamist militants faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced on Friday in New York.

Haroon Aswat, 41, pleaded guilty in March in Manhttan federal court to charges of conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda. At the time of his plea, Aswat said he had suffered from symptoms of schizophrenia for the last 20 years and was being treated.

In 2013, the European Court of Human Rights blocked his extradition because of his mental condition. After assurances from the United States that Aswat would receive adequate care, however, London's High Court approved the extradition and he arrived in the country in October 2014.

Prosecutors say Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, and another man, Oussama Kassir, went to Oregon 16 years ago at the behest of radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to set up the camp in a town called Bly.

Aswat's intended role was to provide religious training at the camp, which prosecutors say was set up to support al Qaeda and had the "terrifying objective" of training Muslim men to fight in Afghanistan.

Authorities say a ledger recovered from an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in 2002 listed a number of individuals associated with the Islamic militant group, including Aswat.

The safe house was used by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused architect of al Qaeda's attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, prosecutors said.

The one-eyed, handless Abu Hamza was convicted at trial in May 2014. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, who will sentence Aswat, in January handed Abu Hamzu a life term.

Kassir was convicted in New York in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison.

In court filings, lawyers for Aswat have suggested a prison term of 12-1/2 years, saying he is a gentle man who never condoned violence.

But prosecutors have asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years, calling him a "loyal and devoted follower" of Abu Hamza.

Aswat's lawyers have also said they hope he receives credit for time he has spent in custody since his arrest in Zambia in 2005 and deportation to Britain.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond, additional reporting by Joseph Ax)