European court clears way for militant cleric's extradition to U.S.
GLASGOW, Scotland -- A radical Muslim cleric who praised the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has lost his final appeal against extradition from Britain to the United States, where he faces allegations that he tried to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Abu Hamza Masri had argued to the European Court of Human Rights that he would face inhumane and degrading treatment if he were shipped to the U.S. and imprisoned there. But the court Monday released a terse statement upholding its decision in April to allow the extradition of Masri and four other terrorism suspects to proceed, for which Washington and London have both been pressing.
It was the last legal avenue for the Egyptian-born Masri, who gained notoriety at a North London mosque for his fiery sermons lauding the Sept. 11 attacks, advocating death by stoning for gay people and calling for nonbelievers to be killed. He is in a British prison serving a seven-year sentence for inciting murder and racial hatred.
Britain has been eager to wash its hands of Masri and promised Monday to ship him to the U.S. as soon as possible.
U.S. authorities accuse Masri of trying to set up a training camp in Bly, Ore., for would-be participants in the insurgency in Afghanistan. They also allege his involvement in the 1998 kidnapping of a group of Western tourists in Yemen, an incident that resulted in the deaths of three Britons and an Australian when Yemeni forces stormed their place of captivity.
The European court’s April decision giving the green light for Masri’s extradition was an important test of U.S.-European relations. A ruling against extradition could have been interpreted as a denunciation of the American judicial and corrections systems, and would have strained ties across the Atlantic.
Masri and the other suspects said that they were at risk of being held in intolerable conditions of solitary confinement for the rest of their lives in a so-called supermax prison in Colorado where many terrorism convicts are serving time.
But the court noted in April that the amenities on offer to inmates at the facility exceed those available at many European prisons. And some curtailment of the inmates’ rights would be warranted, said the court, which is based in Strasbourg, France.
“If the applicants were convicted as charged, the U.S. authorities would be justified in considering them a significant security risk and in imposing strict limitations on their ability to communicate with the outside world,” the court said.
In their statement Monday, the judges said that Masri’s appeal of their decision would not be referred to the court’s Grand Chamber, thus rendering the April decision final.
-- Henry Chu
Photo: Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Masri arrives with a masked bodyguard to conduct Friday prayers in London on April 30, 2004. Masri, who is blind in one eye, has lost a court appeal against extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges. Credit: Max Nash / Associated Press