European Court rules UK can extradite cleric to US

France-based court says al-Qaida supporter Abu Hamza and four other suspects can be extradited to US for trial.

Abu Hamza supporter London Soldier of Allah 370 (photo credit: Reuters )
Abu Hamza supporter London Soldier of Allah 370
(photo credit: Reuters )
LONDON – British Home Secretary Theresa May has hailed the European Court of Human Rights ruling that Britain can send a radical Muslim cleric and four other suspects to the United States to face terrorism charges as “a very important decision.”
The court, based in Strasbourg, France, issued its ruling Tuesday, saying that Britain would not violate EU human rights laws by extraditing the suspects, who could face life sentences in a US maximum-security prison.
“These individuals have been accused of some very significant crimes,” she said. “Every court in the UK felt it was right that they should be extradited.”
May vowed to work to ensure that the suspects are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I am very pleased with this news. It’s quite right that we have a proper legal process, although sometimes you can be frustrated by how long things take.”
The long-running legal battle, which has lasted around eight years and cost over £4million, centered on Mustafa Kamal Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza, an Egyptian-born cleric who was convicted in the UK in 2006 of race hate and incitement to murder, and sentenced to a seven-year prison term.
He was the imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, which al-Qaida terrorists, including “shoe-bomber” Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui, known as the 20th 9/11 hijacker, both attended.
On the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Abu Hamza co-organized a conference at the mosque praising the hijackers.
The UK Charity Commission suspended him from his position in 2003, but he continued to preach to his supporters outside the mosque’s gates until he was arrested a year later.
The 53-year-old radical preacher lost both his arms and use of an eye in Afghanistan in the 1990s and publicly expressed support for al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
At his trial in 2006, Abu Hamza said the British Foreign Office and the media were “controlled by Jews” and that Jews in the UK and the US “controlled the money supply.”
He accused the Jewish people of being “blasphemous, treacherous and dirty” and explained that this was “why Hitler was sent into the world.”
He also called for a world dominated by a caliph sitting in the White House.
Abu Hamza and the other suspects have three months to appeal. They must persuade the grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights to overturn the verdict, or grant them a stay of execution which could last for months, while an appeal is heard.
A representative of the American Justice Department said, “We look forward to the court’s decision becoming final and to the extradition of these defendants to stand trial here.”
In 2004, Washington named Abu Hamza as a “terrorist facilitator with a global reach” and he was arrested pending extradition.
The US wants to try him on charges of conspiring to take 16 Western hostages in Yemen, organizing a “terrorist training camp” in Oregon between 1998 and 2000, and funding terrorism by providing support to al-Qaida and the Taliban.
Abu Hamza and the other suspects had argued that they could face prison conditions and jail terms in the US that would expose them to “torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” – claiming it was in breach of European human rights law.
Based on the charges filed in the US, the suspects could get lifelong jail terms without parole in maximum security conditions, such as cells with concrete furniture, timed showers and no outside communications.
The various challenges against their extradition rested on the suspects’ likely detention in the ADX Florence “Supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado, where they would be held in solitary confinement.
In their ruling, the judges found that conditions at ADX would not amount to ill-treatment.
Several politicians and political groups used the cases to highlight what they deemed failings in the UK legal system for taking so many years to clear up questions of extradition.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the ruling underscored “the disarray of extradition and removals in the UK and pointed to the need to ensure the important cases are fast-tracked.
“Babar Ahmad alone has waited eight years for a decision on his case, this delay is unacceptable,” he said, referring to another suspect accused of laundering money and running pro-Taliban websites to raise money, appeal for fighters and provide equipment for terrorists.
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell said, “If the French government can stick troublemakers on a plane and kick them out within 48 hours then we ought to be able to do the same.
“This is entirely a question of will within Whitehall and if officials put as much effort into removing him as telling us we need [railway upgrade] High Speed 2 he would be out of the country by the weekend.”
Another Conservative MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “I think there are plenty of examples that prove that there is very urgent reform required of the European Court of Human Rights.”
Syed Talha Ahsan, another suspect set to be extradited to the US include, has been charged with conspiring to kill and support terrorists via the Internet. He studied at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies.
Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi citizen, and Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian, are wanted over the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. Al- Fawwaz, allegedly Osama bin Laden’s representative in Britain, has been charged with more than 269 counts of counts of murder.
The court rejected those claims, saying in its ruling Tuesday stating that “detention conditions and length of sentences of five alleged terrorists would not amount to ill-treatment if they were extradited to the US.”
However, the court said the five “should not be extradited” until its judgment becomes final – a move that could take months – or until a possible appeals process ends.
It also put off ruling on the case of a sixth suspect, Haroon Rashid Aswat, wanted by US prosecutors on charges that he tried to set up terrorist camps with Abu Hamza in Oregon.
The court said it requires further information requires his mental health.
The decision comes at a sensitive time following a setback to British extradition policy in February when the European court ruled that the UK could not deport another radical cleric, Abu Qatada, said to have been Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, to Jordan.