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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.

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The Independent (London) adds that if convicted of charges in the US, al-Masri could be facing a 99-year prison sentence in a "supermax" facility. But Workman rejected those arguments, as he does not foresee al-Masri being held in such a prison indefinitely.

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Judge Workman said that to hold Hamza... in such a regime for an indefinite period could breach his human rights, but he added: "I am satisfied that the defendant would not be detained in these conditions indefinitely, that his undoubted ill health and physical disabilities would be considered and, at worst, he would only be accommodated in these conditions for a relatively short period of time. "Whilst I find these conditions offensive to my sense of propriety in dealing with prisoners, I cannot conclude that in the short term the incarceration in a 'supermax' prison would be incompatible with his Article 3 rights."

CNN reports that extradition could be several months away, as he cannot be sent to the US until all his avenues of appeal under British law are exhausted. If he is extradited, his US trial would interrupt the seven-year prison term he is currently serving in Britain. If he is convicted, his US sentence would begin after his British sentence is completed.

A British judge last year sentenced al-Masri to seven years for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred. The court convicted the cleric of possessing items including a 10-volume "encyclopedia" of Afghani jihad, which the prosecutor described as "a manual for terrorism;" the texts discussed how to make explosives, explained assassination methods, and detailed the best means of attack. The cleric was also convicted of possessing video and audio recordings which prosecutors said he intended to distribute to stir up racial hatred. Both non-Muslims and Muslims have condemned al-Masri's preaching, which include praising the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, calling al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden a hero, and describing the 2003 Columbia shuttle disaster as punishment from Allah because the astronauts were Christian, Hindu and Jewish.

CNN adds that al-Masri's followers include Richard Reid, who was convicted of trying to light a bomb in his shoes on a trans-Atlantic flight, and Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to be charged in the US in connection with the September 11 attacks. The Guardian notes that for all his condemnations of the US and the West, al-Masri's "brazenness also helped - with his knowledge or otherwise - the [British] intelligence services."

Following his conviction last year, it emerged he had repeatedly met MI5 and Special Branch officers. A former MI5 agent who infiltrated the Finsbury Park mosque said Hamza was allowed to operate by the security services as long as he did not threaten Britain's national security. Both the agent and a close associate of Hamza claimed the cleric was an unwitting informant on other extremists.

The Guardian adds that al-Masri claims he is not a man of violence, but rather he is solely a political advocate.