Abu Hamza to face charges of inciting racial hatred in UK

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The Independent Online

The controversial Muslim cleric Abu Hamza is to be charged with inciting racial hatred.

The controversial Muslim cleric Abu Hamza is to be charged with inciting racial hatred.

The radical preacher is not expected to be charged with any terrorist offences, but is accused of inciting hatred by allegedly calling on British Muslims to become suicide bombers.

Legal sources said the case had "deeply political" ramifications and the decision to charge Mr Hamza in Britain may have annoyed senior American officials.

Mr Hamza, 47, is already being held in a high-security jail, from where he is fighting attempts by the American government to extradite him and charge him with terrorism.

However, he will now go to trial in Britain after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) yesterday advised the police there was sufficient evidence to bring charges in this country.

Domestic charges take precedence over extradition hearings, although if Mr Hamza is cleared of offences in the United Kingdom the American authorities can restart their own legal action.

The Egyptian-born cleric has been held at Belmarsh prison in south-east London since May, but was arrested in August by the Metropolitan Police's anti-terrorist branch over allegations that he provided support to al-Qa'ida either through finance, recruiting or logistics.

He was later de-arrested but the criminal investigation was not dropped and the police advice file, based on inquiries over several months, was passed to the CPS.

The police evidence is understood to include tapes of Abu Hamza's sermons, which are alleged to incite racial hatred. In April he was recorded giving a sermon in which he allegedly told followers they came from a "culture of martyrdom" and should embrace the opportunity to "die honourably". He is also said to have denounced the West and its allies, and to have praised suicide bombers.

The former imam of Finsbury Park mosque is expected to be charged next week under one of his five names: Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, Abu Hamza, Abu Hamza Al-Masri, Mustafa Kamel and Mustafa Mostafa Kamel Mostafa.

United States officials frequently expressed surprise and frustration that Abu Hamza was free to walk the streets of London, despite his open extremism and allegedly bloodcurdling speeches, in which he reportedly supported blowing up airliners, committing suicide attacks in Britain and killing all Jews above the age of 15.

British officials have had to explain to their US counterparts that neither Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, nor government ministers, have the power to interfere with the legal process and the decision to bring a prosecution.

There has previously been speculation that charges might be brought here as British suspects cannot be extradited if the charges they face carry the death penalty. Mr Hamza is a British citizen through his marriage to a British woman, whom he has since divorced.

The Muslim cleric faces 11 charges in the US, which involve allegations of hostage-taking in Yemen, a conspiracy to set up a terrorist training camp in the US state of Oregon, and sending another radical to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban.

In July, at a hearing of the extradition case, James Lewis QC, for the United States government, said Mr Hamza was a "member of a global conspiracy to wage jihad against the United States and other countries".

At this hearing, Mr Hamza's legal team said the London-based cleric would not receive a fair trial in the US because the evidence against him had been obtained by torture and plea bargaining. They also argued that he had already been declared a global terrorist by President George Bush.

A full extradition hearing involving lawyers for the US government, which was due to begin in London on 19 October, will now be stayed.