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U.S. urges stiff sentences for Britons who recruited for al Qaeda

By Richard Weizel

NEW HAVEN Conn. (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors urged a judge on Tuesday to impose the maximum sentences for two British men who pleaded guilty in December to running a website and distributing publications that promoted violence and raised money for al Qaeda.

The pair, 39-year-old Babar Ahmad and 34-year-old Syed Talha Ahsan, appeared in U.S. District Court in New Haven, Connecticut, for a hearing before Chief Judge Janet Hall ahead of their sentencings later this week.

The United States is most concerned about Ahmad, who faces a possible 25-year sentence, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Reynolds, who called him a "serious threat."

"We have very significant concerns about Mr. Ahmad just going back and doing what he did before," Reynolds said. "We believe his involvement on websites after Sept. 11 (2001) demonstrates, that and he has expressed no remorse for his actions."

Ahmad's attorney, Terence Ward, countered by saying the website, Azzam.com, had been shut down before the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Ahmad is to be sentenced on Wednesday, while Ahsan, who faces a possible 15-year sentence, is set for a Thursday sentencing.

During Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors played graphic videos from the Azzam.com site, including one showing a Russian soldier being beaten and killed by Chechen rebels.

A hush came over the courtroom following that video and Hall called for a break.

Reynolds said Ahmad created the websites that asked for donations in cash, recruited soldiers for the Taliban and al Qaeda and sought donations for battlefield suits and gas masks.

Ward said while his client tried to help Muslims under attack in Bosnia and Chechnya, he regretted supporting the Taliban and was "so upset and horrified that he condemned" the Sept. 11 attacks.  

Both men could also be fined up to $25,000 each.

The pair were extradited from Britain in 2012, and were charged in Connecticut as authorities argued they used an Internet service provider in the state to run at least one of their websites.

(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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