Battle ends with Hamza heading for a US prison
After years of argument that put Europe's legal authority on trial, a court in Strasbourg sends the infamous preacher and a number of other terror suspects across the Atlantic
A decade after he became one of the most vocal and vilified extremists in Britain, Abu Hamza finally looks set to be extradited to America along with four fellow terror suspects.
In a decision that will have undoubtedly been greeted with a sigh of relief on both sides of the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yesterday rejected the men's claims that lengthy detention in a United States "supermax" prison – which they would would face if convicted after an American trial – would constitute "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of their human rights.
But even as Home Secretary Theresa May vowed to ensure they were handed over as quickly as possible, there were warnings that the long legal battle to extradite the men might not yet be over.
Lawyers for one of the suspects, Babar Ahmad, who has been held in a UK prison without trial for nearly eight years, have already signalled their intention to appeal the ruling to the ECHR's Grand Chamber. All five men have three months to lodge such an appeal, which could then take up to a year to resolve. Defence lawyers could also make more representations to the Home Secretary.
Arvinder Sambei, a former Crown Prosecutor who worked on the original cases against three of the men between 1998 and 2003, warned: "I don't think we're any where near the end."
Despite the potential for yet further delay, and accusations from the men's families that their cases should be heard in the UK, the ECHR's decision was widely welcomed by the governments of both Britain and the USA.
At a time of increasingly fractious relations between the UK and the ECHR amid accusations from ministers the latter meddles unduly in British justice, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very pleased" with the latest decision. "It is quite right we have proper legal processes, although sometimes one can get frustrated with how long they take," he said.
Hamza, who famously caused outrage when he declared that "many will be happy" following the 11 September Twin Tower attacks, is coming to the end of a seven-year sentence at Belmarsh prison after being jailed for soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred.
The ECHR approved his extradition along with Babar Ahmad, a 36-year-old computer expert and alleged terrorism fundraiser, and three others – Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. The case of a sixth man, Haroon Rashid Aswat, was adjourned.
None of the men can be put on a plane until the judgment becomes final in three months or the case is referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber. Meanwhile, Ahmad's father Ashfaq called for a trial to be held in the UK, insisting "justice appears to have been subcontracted to the US", while his sister, Narzia Ahmad, 27, said: "Babar has not known what will happen to him tomorrow, in a year, in two years, in eight. It is the worst type of psychological torture." Ahsan's brother Hamja said: "He has already spent more than five years in detention without trial. This is reprehensible and unacceptable."
All the men face possible life sentences if convicted but, in their unanimous ruling, the judges decided the conditions in ADX Florence "supermax" prison in Colorado and lengthy terms "would not amount to ill-treatment if they were extradited to the USA". In a ruling that indicates the first green light for US top-security prisons, the court said the US would be "justified in considering them a significant security risk and in imposing strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world".
Hamza, himself, the court noted was unlikely to end up there due to his disabilities such as hand and eye injuries he claims were inflicted fighting "jihad" in Afghanistan in the nineties.
The 53-year-old Egyptian came to the UK in the early eighties, married an English woman while working as a nightclub bouncer and gained British citizenship before coming to the attention of the authorities for his radical anti-Western sermons at Finsbury Park Mosque.
Described by the US authorities as a "terrorist facilitator with a global reach", the radical cleric has been charged with 11 counts of criminal conduct related to taking 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Oregon, between June 2000 and December 2001.
Aswat, whose case was adjourned for further reports on his schizophrenia and detention in Broadmoor, was indicted as Hamza's "co-conspirator". Bary and Al-Fawwaz were indicted for their alleged involvement in, or support for, the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. Al-Fawwaz was charged with over 269 counts of murder.
Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of various offences including providing support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country.
A US embassy spokeswoman said last night: "We look forward to the court's decision becoming final and to the extradition of these defendants to stand trial in the United States."
Additional reporting by Paul Peachey.
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