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UK man gets 20 years in US prison over Oregon militant camp

Haroon Aswat is shown in this courtroom sketch with US District Judge Katherine Forrest during sentencing in US Federal court in New York

By Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax

A mentally ill British man who US authorities said helped try to set up a training camp in Oregon in 1999 at the behest of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri was sentenced on Friday in New York to 20 years in prison.

US District Judge Katherine Forrest ordered the federal prisons bureau to provide Haroon Aswat, 41, with specialized psychiatric care as part of his sentence.

With credit for 11 years he has already spent in UK and US custody as well as good behaviour, Aswat could be released in approximately six years. His lawyer, Peter Quijano, said Aswat would apply for permission to serve out his sentence in Britain, a request Forrest said she would support.

Aswat pleaded guilty in March in Manhattan federal court to charges of conspiracy and providing material support to al Qaeda. At the time, Aswat said he had suffered from schizophrenia for the last 20 years.

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, London’s High Court approved the extradition. He arrived in New York in October 2014.

Prosecutors have said that Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, and another man, Oussama Kassir, went to Bly, Oregon, 16 years ago at the direction of al-Masri, the London preacher known for violent rhetoric.

Aswat was supposed to provide religious training at the camp, which prosecutors said was set up to support al Qaeda.

Authorities have said a ledger recovered from an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in 2002 listed 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 Sep 11, 2001, prosecutors said.

Abu Hamza was convicted at trial in May 2014. Forrest sentenced him to a life term in January.

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

Quijano had proposed a term of 12-1/2 years for Aswat, arguing that he never condoned violence. But Assistant US Attorney Shane Stansbury said “to paint this man as a pacifist is a complete distortion of the truth.”

Before the sentence was imposed, Aswat apologised. “I have chosen patience over retaliation, forgiveness over enmity and peace over violence,” he told Forrest.

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