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Cleric sentenced in terror conspiracy

Yemeni gets 75 years for attempt to fund al Qaeda, Hamas

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- A federal judge Thursday sentenced a Yemeni Muslim cleric who once called himself Osama bin Laden's spiritual adviser to the maximum 75 years for conspiring to support al Qaeda and Hamas.

Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, 57, was convicted in March of attempting to funnel millions of dollars to Palestinian-backed Hamas and to al Qaeda, the radical Islamic group behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Hamas is an Islamic fundamentalist group that the U.S. State Department labels a terrorist organization.

U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson also fined al-Moayad $1.2 million for his role in attempting to fund terrorist organizations, said Bob Nardoza, a spokesman in the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York.

"This defendant is truly beloved in Yemen by millions of people for a lifetime of charitable work on behalf of poor people," said Al-Moayad's lawyer during the trial, Bill Goodman.

"This sentence will be seen in Yemen and throughout the Arab world as evidence of American hatred of Muslims and not as evidence of American justice."

U.S. Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf, based in Brooklyn, called al-Moayad a "master terrorist financier" and said he "richly deserves the maximum sentence imposed."

"Those who finance terrorist attacks, and rejoice in the murder of innocent victims, are no different from those who plant the bombs or carry the backpacks," Mauskopf said news release. "Money is the lifeblood of terrorism."

After a five-week trial in Brooklyn and five days of deliberations, a jury found al-Moayad guilty of conspiring to provide material support and resources to the foreign terrorist organizations.

A Yemeni assistant, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, 31, also was convicted of terrorism conspiracy. Zayed is scheduled to be sentenced September 1.

Zayed and al-Moayad were arrested two years ago in a sting operation that culminated in Germany and were extradited to the United States.

They were on trial in Brooklyn because they had been charged with raising money at a mosque there.

The government's case relied largely on secretly videotaped conversations between the defendants and a pair of undercover FBI informants at a Frankfurt, Germany, hotel in 2003.

One of the informants, Mohamed Alanssi, testified al-Moayad boasted about giving money, weapons and recruits to al Qaeda leader bin Laden.

Alanssi said al-Moayad told him he personally delivered $20 million to bin Laden before 9/11 and $3.5 million to Hamas.

Surveillance tapes played in court showed al-Moayad and the informants discussing funneling $2.5 million into the fight against America's "Zionist government."

Al-Moayad denied he gave any money to bin Laden and said their relationship was one that dated to the years when bin Laden was battling Soviet forces in Afghanistan, a cause they shared with the United States.

Al-Moayad contended the money was raised for charities in Yemen, where he is an influential religious and political leader.

CNN's Jonathan Wald and Chris Kokenes contributed to this report.

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