Radical cleric faces terror charges in US after losing long-running extradition legal battle
A decade after he became one of the most vocal and vilified extremists in Britain, Abu Hamza finally looks set to be extradited to America along with four fellow terror suspects.
In a decision that will have undoubtedly been greeted with a sigh of relief on both sides of the Atlantic, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg yesterday rejected the men's claims that lengthy detention in a United States ‘supermax’ prison — which they would face if convicted after an American trial — would constitute “torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in breach of their human rights.
But even as Home Secretary Theresa May vowed to ensure they were handed over as quickly as possible, there were warnings that the long legal battle to extradite the men might not yet be over.
Lawyers for one of the suspects, Babar Ahmad, who has been held in a UK prison without trial for nearly eight years, have already signalled their intention to appeal the ruling to the ECHR's Grand Chamber.
All five men have three months to lodge such an appeal, which could then take up to a year to resolve. Defence lawyers could also make more representations to the Home Secretary.
Arvinder Sambei, a former Crown prosecutor who worked on the original cases against three of the men between 1998 and 2003, warned yesterday: “I don't think we're anywhere near the end.”
Despite the potential for yet further delay, and accusations from the men's families that their cases should be heard in the UK, the ECHR's decision was widely welcomed by the governments of both Britain and the USA.
At a time of increasingly fractious relations between the UK and the ECHR amid accusations from ministers that the latter meddles unduly in British justice, Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “very pleased” with the latest decision. “It is quite right we have proper legal processes, although sometimes one can get frustrated with how long they take,” he said.
Hamza, who famously caused outrage when he declared that “many will be happy” following the September 11 Twin Tower attacks, is coming to the end of a seven-year sentence at Belmarsh prison after being jailed for soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred.
The ECHR approved his extradition along with Babar Ahmad, a 36-year-old computer expert and alleged terrorism fundraiser, and three others — Seyla Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz.
The case of a sixth man, Haroon Rashid Aswat, was adjourned.
None of the men can be put on a plane until the judgment becomes final in three months or the case is referred to the ECHR Grand Chamber.
Meanwhile, Ahmad's father Ashfaq called for a trial to be held in the UK, insisting “justice appears to have been subcontracted to the US”, while his sister Narzia Ahmad (27) said: “Babar has not known what will happen to him tomorrow, in a year, in two years, in eight. It is the worst type of psychological torture.”
Ahsan's brother Hamja said: “He has already spent more than five years in detention without trial. This is reprehensible and unacceptable.”
All the men face possible life sentences if convicted but, in their unanimous ruling, the judges decided the conditions in ADX Florence ‘supermax’ prison in Colorado and lengthy terms “would not amount to ill-treatment if they were extradited to the US”.
In a ruling that indicates the first green light for US top security prisons, the court said the US would be “justified in considering them a significant security risk and in imposing strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world”.