Abu Hamza's health has worsened, British court told

FILES - In this file picture taken on April 9, 2004 a bodyguard stands by as Muslim cleric Abu Hamza (R) speaks to his followers outside Finsbury park mosque in London. (AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA)

LONDON: The health of radical Islamist preacher Abu Hamza has deteriorated, the High Court in London heard Tuesday, as he began a last-ditch legal bid to halt his extradition from Britain to the United States.

The Egyptian-born cleric with a hook for a hand, and four other men were set to be sent to the United States after Europe's top rights court gave its green light last week, but are seeking to block their expulsion.

To avoid extradition to a US high-security prison, Hamza and fellow terror suspects Khaled Al-Fawwaz, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Babar Ahmad must prove there are "new and compelling" reasons not to send them.

The British government said the case was a delaying tactic.

Two senior judges hearing the pleas were told in papers lodged with the court that Hamza is seeking a temporary injunction pending a request for an MRI scan to be carried out due to his "deteriorating health".

Alun Jones, a lawyer for 54-year-old Hamza, argues that there is "uncontradicted medical opinion that a scan is medically necessary".

"If the applicant (Hamza) is unfit to plead, or arguably so, it will be argued that it would be oppressive to extradite him."

The lawyer said a judge referred to Hamza's "very poor health" at an extradition hearing in 2008.

Hamza, the former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, is wanted in the United States on charges including setting up an Al-Qaeda-style training camp for militants in the northwestern US state of Oregon.

He has also been charged with criminal conduct related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 and with advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001.

Hamza and the four other suspects are already in jail in Britain and were not in court in person to hear the pleas.

A lawyer representing Fawwaz, who was indicted by the United States for his alleged involvement in the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa in 1998 which killed hundreds of people, said he had disassociated himself from Osama bin Laden.

Edward Fitzgerald claimed Fawwaz had publicly renounced Bin Laden after the Al-Qaeda leader issued a fatwa against Americans in 1996.

The lawyer also pointed to the existence of a diplomatic cable discussing whether Fawwaz should be taken off the US list of terrorist suspects.

He argued that extraditing him would breach European human rights laws "by exposing him to the risk of indefinite solitary confinement".

James Eadie, a lawyer for Britain's Home Office, or interior ministry, told the court the appeals were "abuse of process" by dragging out the extradition process and the arguments could have been made "many moons ago".

He said "evidence cannot be stored up" so as to prolong case, it must be used when available.

The case will continue into a second day although a decision is unlikely on Tuesday, although one of the judges hearing the case, Judge John Thomas, said he was keen to reach a conclusion as soon as possible.

"We have to reach finality on this. This simply cannot go on. It cannot be right to do anything else," he told the court.

The Home Office has agreed to put on hold any extradition until midnight on Wednesday.

The father of 38-year-old British-born computer expert Babar Ahmad said before he entered the court that he hoped his son would finally get a chance to prove he was innocent of the charges of raising funds for terrorism.

"We have been waiting for eight years and he has been in prison for eight years without trial, without the chance, without being given any chance to prove his innocence," Ashfaq Ahmad said.

"We hope that the courts will look at it and that they will give him a chance to prove his innocence and put a halt on this extradition."





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