British Judges Approve Extradition of Muslim Cleric

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LONDON -- British judges ruled on Friday that five terrorism suspects, including the fiery Islamic preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, could be extradited to the United States to face an array of terrorism charges after years of legal battles that tested the balance between civil liberties and national security.

Rejecting appeals by all five men, Sir John Thomas, one of two senior judges hearing the case, said no further appeals were legally possible. The British Home Office said officials were working to extradite the men "as quickly as possible."

Mr. Masri, 54, had been an object of fascination in this country. Hook-handed and one-eyed because of injuries caused by explosives many years ago, he attracted a following among militants as much as he drew the reproach of his foes and the attention of the British security services.

The United States has been seeking his extradition since 2004 to face 11 charges, some dating back 14 years. The charges accuse him of calling for holy war in Afghanistan, playing a role in kidnappings in Yemen and participating in a plot to set up a terrorism training camp in Bly, Ore. Since 2006, he has been incarcerated in Britain on other charges, including incitement to murder.

Babar Ahmad, 37, a computer specialist who is one of the other suspects, had been championed by civil rights campaigners, who complained that he had spent eight years in detention without charge while his requests to be tried in Britain were ignored.

"Each of these claimants long ago exhausted the procedures in the United Kingdom," said Judge Thomas, noting that they had failed to win support from the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled in favor of extradition in April. He said it was in "the interests of justice" that they be tried as quickly as possible.

It was not immediately clear when the authorities would send the five men to the United States.

Before the ruling on Friday, a crowd of demonstrators protesting the possible extradition confronted a line of police officers outside the Royal Courts of Justice in central London, brandishing placards proclaiming "Islam will prevail" and "U.S. and U.K. the real terrorists."

When they began their latest bid to stave off extradition, lawyers for Mr. Masri, 54, said on Tuesday that he was physically unfit to face the accusations against him and that it would be "oppressive to extradite him" under the terms of British law.

Mr. Masri, born Mostafa Kamel Mostafa in Egypt, is the son of an army officer and came to Britain as a student in 1979. As he grew in stature as a radical preacher, his fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London attracted many followers at a time when British security services seemed to play down his importance.

At the same time, though, the mosque became a gathering point for militants who were later linked to terrorist attacks. One of them was Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, who is serving a life term for his attempt to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight in 2002. Another was Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of having trained to be the hypothetical "20th bomber" in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Both men are imprisoned at a so-called supermax prison in Colorado.

Mr. Masri's lawyers had been seeking an injunction to prevent his extradition while he has a medical scan to determine whether health problems -- listed by his lawyers as long-term depression, an inability to concentrate and short-term memory loss -- amount to a degenerative condition. He also suffers from diabetes, psoriasis and the effects of long-term sleep deprivation related to being awakened every hour of the night by prison guards, his lawyers say.

The other men wanted in the United States, along with Mr. Ahmad, are Seyla Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary, and Khaled al-Fawwaz. Mr. Bary and Mr. Fawwaz were charged with multiple murders in the 1998 bombings of the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, which killed more than 200 people. Mr. Ahsan and Mr. Ahmad are charged with providing support to terrorists and conspiracy-related offenses.

Sarah Lyall reported from London, and Alan Cowell from Paris.


This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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