Hook-Handed Terror Suspect One Step Closer to Trial in U.S.

By Patrick Goodenough | April 11, 2012 | 5:06 AM EDT

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri. (AP Photo/File)

(CNSNews.com) – The European Court of Human Rights has removed one more hurdle preventing the extradition to the United States of five suspected terrorists indicted in the U.S. on various charges between 1999 and 2006.

The Strasbourg-based court on Tuesday dismissed arguments that the men would be subjected to “inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” in violation of the European rights charter, should they be convicted and imprisoned in the Supermax facility in Colorado. (See related story)

The court considered the cases of six men being held in Britain, where each has gone through a lengthy battle through the court system in a bid to prevent extradition. Its ruling applies to five of them; the court held off on a decision on the sixth pending further information about his mental state.

Tuesday’s decision is provisional. Under the European Convention on Human Rights, the men have a three-month period to request reconsideration by the court’s “grand chamber.” Five judges will decide whether the request should be granted, and if not, Tuesday’s ruling becomes final. If the case goes to the grand chamber, its decision is final.

The five men who are now a step closer to extradition and trial in the U.S. are:

--Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian-born cleric accused – according to a Department of Justice indictment unsealed in 2004 – of funding al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, trying to set up a terrorist training camp in southern Oregon, and helping a group that kidnapped 16 Western tourists – including two Americans – in Yemen in late December 1998. (Three Britons and an Australian died in the hostage crisis.)

--Adel Abdul Bary, an Egyptian, and Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi, wanted over al-Qaeda’s 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam which cost the lives of 224 people, 12 of them American citizens. Fawwaz, who is accused of being a close associate of Osama bin Laden, faces more than 269 counts of counts of murder.

--British-born Syed Talha Ahsan and Babar Ahmad, accused of offenses including conspiring to support terrorists via the Internet, and conspiracy to kill, kidnap or injure persons abroad.

The sixth man, a decision on whom the court has delayed, is Haroon Rashid Aswat, a British-born man accused by the U.S. of involvement with Abu Hamza in attempting to establish a terror training camp in Oregon. He was arrested in Zambia in 2005 and deported to Britain.

‘Looks just like Afghanistan’

Blind in one eye and sporting a distinctive hook in place of his right hand – the result, he says, of an explosion in Afghanistan – Abu Hamza, 53, was formerly the imam at a North London mosque attended by al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.

For years before his May 2004 arrest he used the Finsbury Park mosque as a base to rail against the West and promote jihad, but it was only in 2003 that the authorities acted against him, stripping him of his British citizenship and barring him from preaching at the mosque. He then took to addressing his followers – mostly young British and foreign-born Muslims – on the street outside the building.

Terrorism researchers identified Abu Hamza as a close associate of bin Laden. In an Oct. 2000 interview in London the cleric told CNSNews.com that he had never met the al-Qaeda leader but would “consider it an honor” to be associated with him.

Although he supported bin Laden's “struggle,” he was involved in a different one, he said at the time. The al-Qaeda leader’s main target were “Jews and Christians in the [Arabian] peninsula” while his own struggle was against “our rulers” – the leaders of the Arab-Muslim world – and to have shari’a imposed.

The U.S. accuses Abu Hamza of trying to set up a “jihad training camp” on a ranch in Bly, Oregon in late 1999 and early 2000.

Another militant involved in the Oregon plan, Lebanese national Oussama Abdullah Kassir, was later extradited from the Czech Republic and stood trial in New York. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2009 after being convicted of charges relating to his participation in the plan to establish the training camp, and his operation of several terrorist websites that carried instruction on how to make bombs and poisons.

According to the indictment in his case, Kassir conspired with Abu Hamza, Aswat and others to set up a training camp on a piece of land in Bly “where Muslims could receive various types of training, including military-style jihad training, in preparation to fight jihad in Afghanistan or to continue with additional jihad training in Afghanistan.”

A letter faxed to Abu Hamza from a co-conspirator described the property as a place that “looks just like Afghanistan,” and said that the group was “stockpiling weapons and ammunition.”

Abu Hamza had then sent Kassir and Aswat from London to Oregon, where they met with other unnamed individuals, according to the indictment. They then stayed for two months at a mosque in Seattle, where Kassir gave men jihad training, including lessons in assembling and disassembling AK-47 assault rifles.

Kassir is now serving his life sentence at the ADX Florence supermax prison, the same facility that was the focus of Tuesday’s European court decision.

‘Kill the Americans and seize their possessions’

Abu Hamza is also wanted in the U.S. and Yemen in connection with the 1998 kidnapping of 16 Westerners, carried out by a group known as the Aden-Abyan Islamic Army.

In August of that year, after al-Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in East Africa, the U.S. launched air strikes against the terrorist group’s bases in Afghanistan.

Reacting to the air strikes, the Aden-Abyan Army issued a statement saying it “declares its support and backing for Sheikh Osama bin Laden ... and appeals to all sectors of the Yemeni people, the descendants of the mujahideen conquerors, to kill the Americans and seize their possessions.”

In December, Yemeni police arrested members of the Aden-Abyan Army on suspicion of planning Christmas Day bombings against U.S. and British targets in Yemen. Days later the Westerners were kidnapped in a hostage-taking aimed at forcing the authorities to release the arrested men.

During the hostage crisis the kidnappers were allegedly in touch with the London-based Abu Hamza by satellite phone. Abu Hamza’s son and stepson were among Aden-Abyan members later imprisoned for their role in the bombing plot. The group’s leader, Abu al-Hassan al-Mehdar, was executed by Yemeni authorities in October 1999.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow