How Abu Hamza's extradition could create a mess for Obama
The extradition of Abu Hamza al-Masri and four other Islamic militants from Britain to the United States comes with a number of conditions, which could create political problems for President Barack Obama as the presidential election nears.
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Those pledges, a U.S. official said, were given over a period of years by both Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush.Skip to next paragraph
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One of the arguments on which the defendants based years of appeals against extradition was that they could be sent to Guantanamo, where they could be tried by military tribunals and sentenced to death.
But "the British government requested, and the U.S. government provided, binding commitments that, if extradited, the defendants would only be tried in a federal civilian court, rather than a military commission," a U.S. counterterrorism official said. The United States also promised that no death sentences would be sought.
Without those commitments, extradition would not have been possible, the official said, and because the five face no charges in Britain they likely would have been released.
Two of the five militants facing extradition - bin Laden's former London spokesmen Khaled Al-Fawwaz, and Adel Bary - have fought for years against extradition on charges that they and others were involved in deadly 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The two have been imprisoned in Britain for more than a decade.
Another is Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born imam indicted by U.S. prosecutors for allegedly providing support to al Qaeda, for his alleged involvement in a 1998 hostage-taking incident in Yemen, and an attempt to set up a training camp for militants in Oregon in 1999.
Abu Hamza became notorious for his inflammatory speeches at the Finsbury Park Mosque in North London and for the prosthetic hook that replaced a hand blown off in murky circumstances.
Abu Hamza, Fawwaz and Bary face trials in Federal Court for the Southern District of New York. Before and during their trial, a law enforcement source said, the defendants would likely be held in a high-rise prison near courthouses in lower Manhattan, close to city hall and police headquarters and only blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attack.
Two other defendants facing extradition, Babar Ahmad and Syed Ahsan, charged with allegedly supporting al Qaeda and other militant groups by operating various websites promoting Islamic holy war, face federal charges in Connecticut and likely would face trial in that state.