Hamza faces US justice on release

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The Independent Online

If Abu Hamza is ever released from prison in Britain, he will still face extradition to the United States on a series of terror charges carrying a potential punishment of up to 100 years in jail.

In May 2004, US Attorney General John Ashcroft unveiled details of an 11-count indictment against Hamza - equating to nine criminal offences in the UK.

The indictment accused Hamza of involvement in terrorism in the Yemen, of trying to set up a terror training camp in Oregon, and of providing money for recruits to attend al Qaida terror training camps in Afghanistan.

The extradition proceedings were suspended pending the outcome of his trial.

There is also the matter of Hamza's appeal against former Home Secretary David Blunkett's decision to strip him of his UK citizenship, which is still outstanding.

In April 2003, Mr Blunkett announced that he wanted to use new immigration powers to deport the Egyptian-born cleric, accusing him of providing a safe haven for extremists and spurring them on to fight jihad.

At the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which began hearing Hamza's case the following year, the Government outlined its damning catalogue of allegations against him for the first time.

The commission was told that Hamza had "provided support and advice to terrorist groups" including the Algerian GIA, the Yemeni IAA group, an Egyptian organisation called EIJ, a Kashmiri group and "of course" al Qaida.

Hamza had used Finsbury Park mosque as a "centre of extremism and a safe haven for Islamic extremists, enabling them to develop the support and contacts necessary to further violent aims", it was further alleged.

Those proceedings were also suspended pending the outcome of his criminal case.

When the US unveiled its grand jury indictment, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly described Hamza as the "real deal".

He added: "He is suspected of providing support to trainees in Osama bin Laden's terrorist camps as well as dispatching associates from England to help establish jihad training sites here in the US.

"Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorism groups worldwide."

The US indictment alleges that he was connected to the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in December 1998.

The group, including 12 Britons, two Americans and two Australians, were travelling in five vehicles on an excursion in the southern Yemeni province of Abyan when they were abducted.

They were taken hostage by Islamic militants in the town of Mudiah, about 175 miles south of the capital, Sanaa, despite having a police escort.

Hours after the kidnap drama began, it ended in a shoot-out between the militants and Yemeni security forces trying to rescue them.

Four of the tourists - Britons Margaret Whitehouse, 52, a teacher from Hampshire, Ruth Williamson, 34, an NHS employee from Edinburgh, and university lecturer Peter Rowe, 60, from Durham, as well as Australian Andrew Thirsk - were killed.

Hamza is accused of providing a satellite phone, with hundreds of pounds worth of credit, to the group responsible and of conspiring with Abu Hassan, the leader of the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army, who was executed for his role in the kidnappings.

The US indictment further alleges that Hamza was involved in trying to set up a terror training camp for violent jihad in Bly, Oregon, along with James Ujaama - another alleged attendee of Finsbury Park.

Ujaama, who is said to have attended the mosque in the late 1990s, is now a key witness against Hamza after allegedly having "done a deal" with US prosecutors allowing him to walk free three years into a 25-year prison sentence for conspiring to help the Taliban.

The idea behind the camp, which never got past the initial stages, was allegedly to provide recruits with training in weapons, hand-to-hand combat and martial arts for use in fighting jihad.

A British al-Qa'ida suspect, Haroon Rashid Aswat, who was arrested last year, was also reported to have been involved in the plot and is now facing extradition to the US.

Another of the charges on the US indictment relates to the sending of Feroz Abbasi, one of the former British Guantanamo Bay detainees, to Afghanistan.

It has been claimed that, at Hamza's request, Ujaama took Abbasi to Afghanistan, where he allegedly trained in two terror camps, was addressed by bin Laden and was said to have expressed a willingness to carry out suicide missions.

Ugandan-born Abbasi, from Croydon, south London, was subsequently detained as an "unlawful combatant" and transferred to the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.

He returned to the UK in January last year and after being questioned by police was released without charge.

Hamza is also accused by the US of conspiring to provide support for the Taliban and is said to have used a website to urge his followers to donate money, goods and services to the regime.

Ultimately, it was the US's extradition request that was to lead to Hamza being charged by British prosecutors.

While executing the extradition warrant issued by Bow Street magistrates in May 2004, police officers searched Hamza's Shepherd's Bush home.

There they recovered 2,700 audio tapes, 570 VHS video tapes and the encyclopaedia of Afghani Jihad, later described in court as a "terrorist manual". It was that material which formed the basis of the charges against the cleric.