Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Muslim cleric suspected of helping kidnap American tourists in Yemen in 1998 and attempting to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, arrived early Saturday in lower Manhattan from Britain after losing a nearly decade-long extradition fight.
The partially blind al-Masri, who taught at London’s infamous Finsbury Park mosque, is also believed to have mentored Sept. 11 conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, the failed “shoe bomber” who tried to destroy an airliner with explosives.
In the Manhattan courthouse, al-Masri’s court-appointed lawyer asked that his prosthetic hands be returned immediately “so he can use his arms.” The preacher typically uses hooks on his arms, but he showed up in court with exposed stumps, for reasons that were not immediately clear.
“Mr. Mustafa [al-Masri’s alias] would appreciate if the Bureau of Prisons would return to him his prosthetics so he can use his arms,” the attorney, Sabrina Schroff, told the court.
“He needs a dictating machine because he can’t take notes,” Schroff added. “To the extent that Mr. Mustafa does not receive his prosthetics immediately, he will need someone to help with the care of his daily needs. … I ask that the Bureau of Prisons attend to that immediately otherwise he will not be able to function in a civilized manner.”
Schroff told reporters outside the courthouse after the 13-minute court hearing that her client seemed like a respectable man.
“”He seemed very much of a gentleman,” Schroff said.
Along with several co-defendants — including Khaled al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdul Bary, who have been implicated in the deadly 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and Syed Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, who allegedly ran websites designed to funnel recruits and trainees to al-Qaida — al-Masri had sought to remain in Britain primarily because of human rights concerns.
The co-defendants, who each pleaded not guilty, believe they will face inhumane conditions in U.S. prisons and think there is not enough proof to sustain the allegations against them, according to court documents.
The Extradition Act 2003, signed by Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, permits the extradition of U.K. citizens to the U.S. if a “reasonable suspicion” exists that they committed a crime against U.S. law. Prior to that act’s ratification, the standard of proof required to extradite a British citizen was significantly higher, requiring a much stronger prima facie case.
By contrast, the extradition of U.S. citizens to the U.K. demands a showing of “probable cause,” still a higher standard of proof than the one al-Masri and his c0-defendants faced. Existing human rights treaties prevent extradited defendants from either country from facing the death penalty.
British High Court Judges John Thomas and Duncan Ouseley denied the suspected terrorists’ request just hours before they were extradited both because the U.S. met this low burden of proof and because of the nature of their crimes.
“[It is] in the interest of justice that those accused of very serious crimes, as each of these claimants is in these proceedings, are tried as quickly as possible as is consistent with the interests of justice,” Thomas wrote in the ruling. “It follows that their extradition to the United States of America may proceed immediately.”
al-Masri has remained in a jail in Britain since 2004 due to inciting racial hatred and violence. He has called Sept. 11 “a towering day in history” and told followers that Osama bin laden was “a good guy and a hero.”
Approximately 100 protesters and activists gathered outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London with signs saying “Stop extraditions,” “Justice is Only From Islam” and “Democracy is hypocrisy.”
Reaction to the court’s ruling from officials in both the U.S. and Britain, however, was highly positive.
The extraditions are “a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism,” according to U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who added that “these are men who were at the nerve centers of al-Qaida’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.”
“I’m absolutely delighted that Abu Hamza is now out of this country,” British Prime Minister David Cameron told the media. “Like the rest of the public I’m sick to the back teeth of people who come here, threaten our country, who stay at vast expense to the taxpayer and we can’t get rid of them.”
“I’m delighted on this occasion we’ve managed to send this person off to a country where he will face justice.”