A Yemeni cleric who bragged about his ties to Osama bin Laden was sentenced Thursday to 75 years in prison in a terrorism-financing case that was nearly derailed when the government's star witness set himself on fire outside the White House.
A federal judge prefaced Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan Moayad's sentence, the maximum allowed, with a recitation of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, beginning with a hijacked jet crashing into the World Trade Center.
"We all remember September the 11th," U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. said. "While the defendant is not being sentenced as a result of the events of 9/11, he came to the attention of the authorities because of 9/11."
A jury in March found Moayad, 57, guilty of conspiring to support and attempting to support al Qaeda and the Palestinian extremist group Hamas, known formally as the Islamic Resistance Movement. He also was convicted of supporting Hamas but acquitted of supporting al Qaeda.
Moayad was lured to Germany by two FBI informants in 2003 and secretly recorded promising to funnel money to Hamas and al Qaeda. He also boasted that bin Laden called him "my sheik." He was arrested by German police and sent to the United States.
One of the informants, Mohamed Alanssi, set himself on fire in Washington last November in what he later described as an attempt to get more money from the FBI, which paid him at least $100,000. Alanssi recovered in time for the trial and described Moayad as a dedicated funder of terrorism who boasted of giving bin Laden $20 million in the years before Sept. 11.
The judge drew a connection between Moayad's desire to fund terrorism, the Sept. 11 attacks and a suicide bus bombing in Israel described during the trial by one of the survivors. "The logical question would be: How were the moneys used by al Qaeda? How were the moneys used by Hamas?" Johnson said.
As Moayad was led away, he asked in Arabic: "Your honor, what have I done?"