US court convicts Muslim preacher of supporting Islamic State group
Muslim cleric Abdullah el-Faisal has been convicted in a US court on state terrorism charges, after being extradited to New York City following an undercover police operation.
The Manhattan District Attorney's office said it was the first-ever state-level trial on terrorism charges. New York's laws on terrorism were passed a week after the 9/11 attacks.
Faisal, who was born Trevor William Forrest and often goes by Shaikh Faisal, is due to be sentenced next month after his conviction in the state's supreme court in Manhattan, on counts including soliciting or providing support for an act of terrorism, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office said.
Prosecutors said Faisal, whom they described as highly influential, had supported the Islamic State (IS) group for several years, encouraging violent acts in online lectures and calling for the creation of an Islamic caliphate.
Authorities said that beginning in 2016, an undercover officer in New York City began communicating with him while he was living in Jamaica. He was arrested in his native Jamaica in 2017 and extradited to New York City in 2020.
Faisal began messaging the officer - who claimed to be an aspiring militant with medical training - on WhatsApp, The New York Times reported.
Faisal allegedly offered to help the female officer join IS and introduced her to a member of the group in Syria. He told her the man would help her travel to join the group and would also be a suitable husband for her.
According to the prosecutors, Faisal was allegedly close to one of the suicide bombers who detonated explosives in London in 2005, when 52 people were killed. The man currently serving a life sentence for the attempted Times Square bombing in 2010 allegedly listened to Faisal’s sermons on an iPod.
Michael Fineman, an attorney for Faisal, said he was "disappointed" by the decision, adding that the cleric never actually agreed to help the officer travel to territory controlled by the IS group. Fineman said he planned to appeal the ruling.
In 2003, Faisal served four years in prison in Britain after being convicted of "inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder after encouraging the killing of Hindus, Jews and Americans".
After his prison sentence, he lived in Kenya. In 2010, the government deported Faisal to Jamaica. While living in Jamaica, he reached a global audience through social media and his personal website.
The trial also provided a rare window into how the New York Police Department's secretive intelligence bureau, which has been criticised for spying on Muslim Americans, pursued an individual overseas.