Abu Hamza al-Masri, the Islamic cleric suspected of having ties to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization, lost a last-ditch bid to have a U.K. court delay his extradition to the U.S., ending more than eight years of legal wrangling.
Two judges rejected Abu Hamza’s appeal to delay the extradition on medical grounds at a hearing in London today and the Islamic cleric could be on a plane to the U.S. within hours.
If the condition “is treatable, then it can be treated in the United States,” Judge John Thomas said in a ruling today. “The sooner he stands trial the better.”
Abu Hamza is alleged by U.S authorities in an 11-count indictment filed in April 2004 that he supported the Taliban in Afghanistan with money and troops, and aided a kidnapping in Yemen in 1998 that left four hostages dead. Federal prosecutors in New York also allege that he attempted to set up a terrorist training camp from 1999 to 2000 in Bly, Oregon.
Born in Egypt, and granted British citizenship in 1986, the 54-year-old Abu Hamza is known for the hook-shaped prosthetic he wears in place of his hand. A civil rights group said courts have ignored that all the alleged offenses occurred in the U.K.
“This is yet another example of the dangers of our flawed extradition arrangements,” Emma Norton, legal officer for Liberty. “Isn’t British justice -- so admired around the world -- capable of dealing with crimes committed in the U.K. by its own citizens?”
Four other men, Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Khalid Al-Fawwaz and Adel Bary, were also denied their bids to block being sent to the U.S. by the court today. Thomas said the ruling can’t be appealed.
The U.K. Home Office said after the ruling that it was “working to extradite these men as quickly as possible.”
Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is prosecuting the Abu Hamza case, declined to comment on the ruling. The hostage-taking charges could carry the death penalty or life in prison, then U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference when the case was first announced in 2004.
“These extraditions mark the end of a lengthy process of litigation through the U.K. courts” and the European Court of Human Rights, the U.S. Embassy in London said in a statement. “The law enforcement relationship between the United States and United Kingdom is predicated on trust, respect, and the common goals of protecting our nations and eliminating safe havens for criminals, including terrorists.”
Abu Hamza, who the U.S. identifies as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, was originally 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.
Babar Ahmad, accused in the U.S. of running terrorist-funding websites, said the ruling ends his more than eight-year-long fight against extradition.
“By exposing the fallacy of the U.K.’s extradition arrangements with the U.S., I leave with my head held high having won the moral victory,” Ahmad said.
Abu Hamza has sought to block his extradition for years through a series of court cases that seemed to conclude last month with a ruling by the Human Rights court refusing to consider claims by the cleric and the other men that U.S. prison conditions would be inhumane.
“Each of the applicants has taken every conceivable point to prevent his extradition to the U.S.,” Judge Thomas said in court.
U.K. officials vowed to speed up the extradition after the ruling from the Strasbourg, France-based Human Rights court, but Abu Hamza’s lawyers asked the High Court in London to delay the proceedings for medical tests. Lawyers argued that Abu Hamza’s health had deteriorated after years of incarceration in a U.K. high-security prison.
“We concluded that if Abu Hamza might be unfit to plead, because of sleep deprivation and physical conditions at HMP Belmarsh, then this condition being treatable could be treated in the United States,” Judge Thomas said. “If any potential unfitness to plead was emerging from a degenerative condition of the brain, the court concluded that the sooner he is put on trial the better.”