A British court has given the go-ahead for one of Britain’s most notorious Islamic radicals to be extradited to the United States, where he faces terror-related charges that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.
Abu Hamza al-Masri was arrested in Britain on a U.S. extradition warrant in 2004, but was first put on trial for offenses there.
He currently is serving a seven-year prison term in Britain for inciting racial hatred and murder and for possessing a training manual “of use to terrorists.”
If convicted in the U.S., however, the Egyptian-born cleric could face a 99-year sentence.
At the City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court Thursday, a judge dismissed a defense argument that extraditing Abu Hamza would violate his human rights because he would likely be held in a supermax prison and not have visits from his family.
* Does your heart bleed already?
“The gravity and seriousness of these allegations is such that the public interest in honoring the extradition treaty outweighs the inevitable interference with the defendant’s family life,” Judge Timothy Workman was quoted as saying.
The case has now been sent to Britain’s Home Secretary for a final decision.
According to a U.S. indictment unsealed in May 2004, Abu Hamza stands accused of funding al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, trying to set up a terrorist training camp in southern Oregon, and helping a group that kidnapped 16 Western tourists — including Americans — in Yemen in late December 1998. Three Britons and an Australian died in the hostage crisis.
More information about the Oregon allegation emerged last September, when the Department of Justice announced the extradition of another terrorist suspect, Oussama Abdullah Kassir, who had been in custody in the Czech Republic.
In its statement, the DoJ said Kassir had been involved with Abu Hamza in planning in 1999 to set up a base in Bly, Ore., “to provide a place where Muslims could receive various types of training, including military-style jihad training, in preparation for a community of Muslims to move to Afghanistan.”
“Once in Afghanistan, the men in the community would have gained enough familiarity with weapons at the Bly jihad training camp to fight jihad or to continue with additional jihad training in Afghanistan,” it said.
Kassir, a Lebanese national, faces charges in the Southern District of New York.
Another man linked to the Oregon plot was James Ujamma, an American-born Muslim convert indicted in 2002 and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to conspiring to aid the Taliban government in Afghanistan in the late 1990s.
Early this year Ujamma was arrested in Belize, charged with violating the terms of his supervised release by leaving the U.S. without permission, and sentenced to two years in a federal prison. He will likely be a key witness against Abu Hamza and Kassir.
Abu Hamza was formerly the imam at a North London mosque linked to confessed al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who used explosives hidden in his shoe to try to blow up a U.S.-bound flight.
He also had close links to an Islamist terrorist group in Yemen, the Aden-Abyan Army, which was centrally linked to the 1998 hostage-taking incident.
Just days before the Westerners were kidnapped, Yemeni police had arrested members of the Aden-Abyan Army on suspicion of planning Christmas Day bombings against U.S. and British targets in Yemen.
The hostage-taking was an attempt to force authorities to release the arrested men, and the kidnappers were
allegedly in touch with Abu Hamza by satellite phone during the crisis.
Abu Hamza’s son and stepson were among Aden-Abyan members later imprisoned for their role in the bombing plot. The group’s leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Mehdar, was executed by Yemeni authorities in October 1999.
When, a year later, terrorists bombed the U.S. Navy destroyer USS Cole in Yemen’s Aden port, killing 17 sailors, Abu Hamza claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the Aden-Abyan Army. He said in an interview at the time that the bombing was to mark the Palestinian intifada, and the anniversary of Mehdar’s execution.
The U.S. government’s Abu Hamza indictment does not refer to the USS Cole bombing.