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Deputy with al-Qaida link is sentenced to 45 years

NEW YORK (AP) — A deputy to a Yemeni cleric who plotted to raise money for al-Qaida was sentenced Thursday to a maximum 45 years in prison, despite his urgent disavowals of terrorism.

"I'm opposed to all sorts of terrorism, I swear to God," Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed said in Arabic through an interpreter before being sentenced. "I do not believe in terrorism."

Defense attorney Jonathan Marks had argued that Zayed, 31, was a naive bit player in the conspiracy involving his boss, Sheik Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Moore agreed that the defendant, though guilty, "played a much smaller role" than al-Moayad.

But U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson Jr. ordered Zayed to serve consecutive 15-year terms for convictions on three conspiracy counts. The judge sentenced al-Moayad to 75 years in prison, also the maximum, in July.

Zayed was a loyal aide to al-Moayad in 2003 when the pair were lured by two FBI informants to Germany. In meetings attended by Zayed, the sheik was secretly recorded promising to funnel money to Hamas and al-Qaida; he also boasted that bin Laden called him "my sheik."