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Terror Suspects May be Sent to U.S., European Court Says

Abu Hamza al-Masri
Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric jailed for inciting murder and racial hatred, lost a European court case to avoid extradition from the U.K. to the U.S., where he argues prison conditions would violate his human rights. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

April 10 (Bloomberg) -- Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric jailed for inciting murder and racial hatred, can be extradited from Britain to the U.S. because prison conditions there won’t violate his human rights, a European court ruled.

The potential for a life sentence and solitary confinement in a maximum-security federal prison in Florence, Colorado, is justified in cases where inmates are a “significant security risk,” the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled today. The U.S. facility also has amenities that go beyond what’s provided in most prisons in Europe, it said.

The ruling rejected claims by Hamza and four other accused terrorists that conditions at the so-called supermax U.S. prison would violate their rights to avoid inhuman and degrading treatment. The U.S. seeks to prosecute Hamza on charges he supported the Taliban with money and troops, set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, in 2000 and aided a kidnapping plot that left four hostages dead in Yemen in 1998.

“I am very pleased with this news,” U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron told reporters today in Tokyo. “It is quite right we have a proper legal process, although sometimes you can get frustrated with how long they take.”

Hamza, who was born in Egypt and granted British citizenship in 1986, appealed his extradition with other men sought by the U.S. on terror charges between 1999 and 2006. The European court halted their extraditions in July 2010, while it considered the cases.

‘Significant Security Risk’

“If the applicants were convicted as charged, the U.S. authorities would be justified in considering them a significant security risk and in imposing strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world,” the court, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights, said in a press release.

Inmates in the disputed U.S. prison have access to television, radio, newspapers, books, craft items, telephone calls, social visits, correspondence with families and prayer groups, the court said today. Prisoners also have access to mental-health treatment and a chance to be moved to lower security prisons with more human contact, it said.

The other accused men whose extraditions were approved by today’s ruling are Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Adel Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz. The U.S. is “pleased” with the finding, which won’t become final until a three-month window for appeals expires, the American embassy in London said today in an e-mailed statement.

“We look forward to the court’s decision becoming final and to the extradition of these defendants to stand trial in the United States,” the embassy said.

The European court said it accepted statements in the case from the Colorado prison and the U.S. Department of Justice, which said it may be “impossible” to house Hamza in the prison due to his physical condition, particularly the amputation of his arms.

Extradition ‘Disarray’

The ruling highlights the “disarray of extradition and removals in the U.K.,” Keith Vaz, chairman of Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee, said in an e-mailed statement. “This delay is unacceptable,” Vaz said, citing the eight-year wait for Ahmad, a British man accused of raising money for the Taliban.

Hamza, the former head of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, was sentenced by a U.K. court in 2006 to seven years in prison for encouraging his followers to kill Jews and other non-Muslims in sermons between 1997 and 2000. An appeals court rejected his claims the jury was swayed by the media’s demonization of the cleric and unrelated acts of terrorism, such as the 2005 bombings on London’s public transport system.

Hamza, who is known for the hook-shaped prosthetic he wears in place of his hands, argued in the U.K. case that he preaches religious tenets set forth in the Koran and was only prosecuted to avoid political embarrassment after the U.S. government filed terrorism charges against him.

Possible Appeal

Hamza and the other accused terrorists have three months to appeal the case to the court’s Grand Chamber, where a panel of five judges would consider the matter, according to the court’s statement. If a referral request is denied, the current ruling will become final.

A U.K. immigration court ruled in November 2010 Hamza could keep his British passport because without it he would be stateless. Cameron said at the time he was disappointed with that court’s decision.

The U.K. approved Hamza’s extradition after the U.S. gave diplomatic assurances the cleric’s human rights would be respected. Hamza had appealed both the lower court decision to allow his extradition and the U.K. government’s signing of the extradition papers.

In January, Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada avoided deportation from Britain to his home country after the human-rights court ruled judges there might use evidence gained through torture. The Islamic cleric was granted bail by a U.K. court the following month, drawing criticism from the U.K. Home Office, which said the man is a security threat.

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Larson in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at

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