The radical cleric Abu Hamza and four other Muslim men, some of whom have been held without charge in Britain for more than a decade, are set to be extradited to the United States within days after the European Court of Human Rights rejected their last legal lifeline.
The men are all wanted by American prosecutors for alleged involvement in terrorism and have fought a lengthy legal battle to avoid extradition. But, in a final blow to their hopes of staying in the UK, European judges last night rejected their attempt to appeal against a ruling from earlier this year which said their extradition could go ahead.
The decision means the Home Office is likely to push ahead with flying the men out of Britain within the next few weeks.
Abu Hamza rose to fame in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks as a preacher of violent Islamism. He is the only one of the five men who has been prosecuted for a crime in the British courts after he was jailed in 2006 for seven years on charges of soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred.
Two other men – Khalid al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary – are wanted by US prosecutors for their alleged involvement in al-Qa'ida's bombings of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. According to the indictment against them, both men were allegedly involved in running al-Qa'ida's London office at the time of the attacks. The Saudi-born Mr Fawwaz has been in British custody since 1998 whilst the Egyptian-born Mr Bary was arrested a year later.
The cases against the last two defendants, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, has been much more controversial and has prompted a campaign to keep them in Britain.
According to the indictment against them, both men are wanted for allegedly running pro-Islamist militant websites under the banner of Azzam Publications. One of the site servers was based in Connecticut, allowing prosecutors to file charges in a US court. The websites espoused a millenarian jihadist view that supported the Taliban movement in Afghanistan, but were shut down shortly after 11 September.
Mr Ahmad was arrested in 2004, whilst Mr Ahsan was picked up in 2006 and they have both been held without charge since then. The two men have denied involvement in Azzam Publications and supporters have argued that if they had committed any crime on UK soil they should have been prosecuted in Britain.
The case against both men was also muddied by the revelation Mr Ahmad was beaten by officers during his arrest and won £60,000 in compensation from the Metropolitan Police.
All five men fought independent legal battles through the British courts to have the extradition requests against them thrown out.
After their appeals were thrown out in the British courts they appealed to Strasbourg, arguing that their human rights would be infringed if they were deported to the US. In April this year, European judges ruled the extraditions should go ahead and last night they dismissed an appeal to take their case to the Grand Chamber.
In a statement released last night, the Home Office said it welcomed the decision from the European Court of Human Rights. "We will work to ensure that the individuals are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible," a spokesman said.
Mr Ahmad's family released a statement last night urging the Home Secretary, Theresa May, to bring a prosecution in the UK. "There is enormous public interest in Babar being prosecuted in the UK, as reflected by the fact that almost 150,000 members of the British public signed a Government e-petition to this effect last year," the statement read.
In a final twist Alan Watkin, a Newcastle-based businessman, has hinted that he might be willing to bring a private prosecution in the British courts against Mr Ahmad and Mr Ahsan. Such a prosecution is likely to delay any extradition.
"As Britons living here, having potentially committed serious crimes here, there is no question they should not be tried here," Mr Watkin said.