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British court OKs extradition of London imam

Abu Hamza al-Masri, convicted in Britain of soliciting murder and racial hatred, could face a life sentence in the US for supporting terrorist activities.

By / November 16, 2007

A British court ruled Thursday that London Imam Abu Hamza al-Masri, Britain's highest profile Muslim radical, could be extradited to the US to face charges of conspiracy, kidnapping, and providing material support to terrorists. Although Britain is likely to comply, the US bid to extradite Mr. al-Masri still faces several challenges, namely concerns about his potential prison conditions in the US and whether such a move might violate his human rights.

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Al-Masri, the firebrand Muslim cleric convicted last year in Britain of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, faces extradition to the US on 11 terrorism-related charges. That process, however, could take time, reports the British Broadcast Corporation.

City of Westminster Magistrates Court approved the extradition, but the decision has to be ratified by the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith. Senior District Judge Timothy Workman ruled that Abu Hamza (al-Masri), who preached at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, had lost his legal arguments. The judge said he would send the matter to the Secretary of State for a decision on whether the former civil engineering student should be extradited.

The New York Sun writes that the British home secretary's assent to extradition is thought to be a formality. Upon her approval, al-Masri can be sent to America to face charges filed against him in New York in 2004.

Mr. Hamza (al-Masri) is charged with sending an associate to collect funds from sympathetic Muslims in New York that were used to send two co-conspirators to Afghanistan to recruit a "front line commander" to direct acts of violent jihad in the West. ... The terrorism charges against Mr. Hamza relate to a period in late 1999 and early 2000 in Bly, Ore., when he is accused of trying to set up camps to train youths to commit violent acts of jihad and terrorism. In April 2004 the cleric was the subject of an 11-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York. According to [then US Attorney General John] Ashcroft, between December 23 and 29, 1998, Mr. Hamza plotted to take Westerners hostage in Yemen and provided a satellite telephone to members of the Islamic Army of Aden, who carried out the kidnapping.

The Sun notes that four of the hostages, three Britons and an Australian, were killed when Yemeni forces stormed the kidnappers' hideout. A key point of contention in the extradition hearings has been whether al-Masri's incarceration in the US might violate his human rights, reports The Daily Telegraph (London).

Judge Workman was told that Hamza was likely to be housed in a supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where his treatment would breach the Human Rights Act. Hamza was said to be in poor health with diabetes, raised blood pressure, the loss of sight in his right eye, poor vision in the left and the effects of the amputation of both forearms. A report from a former chief judge of the US Court of Appeals said supermax prisoners were "locked down for 23 hours a day in small cells between 48 and 80 sq ft."