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Radical preacher Abu Hamza set for US extradition

This Friday, April 30, 2004 file photo shows Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, as he arrives with a masked bodyguard, right, to conduct Friday prayers in the street outside the closed Finsbury Park Mosque in London. (AP Photo/Max Nash, File)

LONDON: Radical Islamist preacher Abu Hamza and four other terrorism suspects are set to be extradited to the United States after a British court Friday rejected their last-ditch attempts to block their removal.

A legal saga that has dragged on for more than a decade in the courts of Britain and Europe finally ended when two senior judges at the High Court in London dismissed the men's pleas to be allowed a stay of extradition.

Judge John Thomas said: "The applications by all five claimants must be dismissed. It follows that their extradition to the United States of America may proceed immediately."

Britain's Home Office said that Hamza and fellow suspects Khaled Al-Fawwaz, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Babar Ahmad would be removed "as quickly as possible".

Hamza has been indicted in the United States on charges including setting up an Al-Qaeda-style training camp for militants in the state of Oregon and involvement in the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998.

The 54-year-old Egyptian-born former imam, who has a hook for his right hand, failed to convince the judges that his extradition should be blocked in order for medical tests to be carried out for his depression.

The judges said they were "wholly unpersuaded" he was unfit to face trial, and added that "the sooner he is put on trial the better".

They also dismissed arguments by the suspects that conditions in ADX Florence, the "supermax" jail in the United States where they will be held, would breach their human rights.

The judges said there was an "overwhelming public interest" in ensuring the proper functioning of extradition treaties, and said there may be a need for Britain to consider its lengthy appeals process.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in September that all five men could be extradited, but the High Court ordered the government to halt their removal while it heard their final appeals.

The US embassy in London said it was "pleased with the decision", adding that "these individuals are being transferred to the United States."

"These extraditions mark the end of a lengthy process of litigation through the UK courts and the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights)," it said.

Abu Hamza rose to prominence in the 1990s when he gave fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, but has been in prison in Britain for eight years after being convicted of inciting hatred.

Babar Ahmad, 38, has been in prison without trial since 2004 and Ahsan, 32, since 2006. Fawwaz, a 50-year-old Saudi, and Bary, a 52-year-old Egyptian national, have both been behind bars since 1999.

Lawyers for Abu Hamza argued that he should not be extradited because he needs a brain scan.

They told the court he suffers from depression exacerbated by his "demonisation" by the British media, sleep deprivation and memory loss which make him unfit to plead, as well as infections in his arm stumps.

Ahmad and Ahsan, both British nationals who are described as computer experts, are accused of operating websites supporting Chechen and Afghan insurgents.

Lawyers for the pair argued that British authorities were wrong not to allow a private prosecution that would have meant them going on trial in Britain and prevented their extradition.

Ahmad said in a statement read out by his family outside court that he had won a "moral victory" and was "leaving with my head held high."

His father Ashfaq Ahmad, who has run a campaign to prevent his extradition, said outside the court that the decision was "a shameful chapter in the history of Britain".

"The Metropolitan Police, the Crown Prosecution Service, even the court have all colluded to implement a pre-determined decision that was made in Washington," he said.

Fawwaz and Bary were both indicted by the US for alleged involvement in the bombing of two US embassies in east Africa in 1998 which killed hundreds. They also allegedly ran Al-Qaeda's media office in London in the 1990s.

Their lawyers sought to block their extradition on the basis that they had new evidence but the judges rejected their appeal.

 

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