Blunkett defends arrest of radical preacher

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An attempt to extradite the radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza from Britain to the United States using a controversial fast-track system was defended yesterday by David Blunkett.

An attempt to extradite the radical Muslim preacher Abu Hamza from Britain to the United States using a controversial fast-track system was defended yesterday by David Blunkett.

The Home Secretary also indicated that he was preparing to introduce new laws that allow greater use of phone bugging evidence in future court cases.

This was in response to the 11 charges cited by the US authorities on Thursday in support of the extradition, which included satellite-phone evidence that allegedly links Mr Hamza with kidnappers in Yemen. He is also accused of plotting to set up al-Qa'ida training camps. If sent to trial in the US and convicted he could spend the rest of his life in jail.

Mr Blunkett said Mr Hamza was being extradited on the basis of US evidence about activities in the state of Oregon, and Afghanistan and Yemen.

"Had we evidence in this country of a crime here then of course the police and Attorney General would have taken action," he said. He added that the 47-year-old who is currently being held in a top security jail was using the courts to challenge his attempt to strip him of his British citizenship and have him expelled.

"So I have taken the action I believe is necessary to expel him from the country. He, in our system, has the right to challenge me."

Under the new extradition procedure between the US and Britain, the American authorities do not have to produce prima facie evidence of an alleged offence. Instead they only have to offer a detailed statement of their complaint.

Among the 11 alleged offences was that Mr Hamza had bought a satellite phone for the leader of the Islamic Army of Aden for use in a plot to kidnap a group of Western tourists. He is also accused of putting £500 of credit on the telephone.

When asked about the satellite phone-call linking Mr Hamza to Yemen, Mr Blunkett said: "We do not use intercepts in open court. We have a review of that going on at this very moment and I hope to be able to report by the autumn.

"I have indicated I am being moved on this issue - my views have changed and I think there is room for limited use of such evidence, whether picked up in the US or by GCHQ is, of course, another matter."

About 100 supporters of Mr Hamza held a rally at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London to protest at the arrest and detention in Belmarsh high-security prison. A spokesman for the supporters said: "The shameful and heavy-handed arrest of Sheikh Abu Hamza has proven unequivocally that any Muslim who speaks out against idolatry, corruption, oppression, Zionism and Christian fanaticism is subject to arrest."

They plan to march on the US embassy in central London after Friday prayers next week in protest at Mr Hamza's arrest.

He added that none of the supporters had any faith in the US government or its justice system, and strongly condemned the US attorney general John Ashcroft, who announced the allegations against the cleric.

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