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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May 2004, 14:53 GMT 15:53 UK
Q&A: Abu Hamza extradition process
Abu Hamza
Abu Hamza has always denied involvement in terrorism
Jailed cleric Abu Hamza faces being sent to the United States on terrorism charges after a court in London approved his extradition. Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Tighe explains the background to the case.

What has happened now?

A senior district judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London has ruled that the radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri should be sent to face trial on terrorism-related charges in the US. Lawyers for Hamza have been fighting his extradition since the request was first filed in May, 2004.

The 48 year-old is already serving a seven-year prison sentence in the UK for inciting murder and stirring up racial hatred.

Why is he wanted in the US?

At a previous hearing, counsel for the US Government claimed Hamza was a member of "a global conspiracy to wage jihad against the US and other Western countries." Further, "he advocated the defence of Islam through violent, unlawful and armed aggression."

Specifically, in a nineteen-point indictment which forms the legal basis for the extradition application, Hamza is accused of being involved in a kidnapping operation in Yemen in 1998 in which four hostages - three Britons and an Australian - were killed.

He is also alleged to have tried to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, in late 1999 and early 2000 and to have sent recruits for terrorist training in Afghanistan.

When was he arrested?

Hamza was detained in May 2004 by British police acting for the US Government under the rules of extradition applications.

So why has it taken so long to come to court?

Before the extradition case could be heard, Hamza was charged in the UK and that prosecution took precedent over the extradition request. After his conviction, Hamza launched a series of appeals which caused further delay.

Only when the House of Lords denied him leave to make any further appeals in January this year could the extradition process begin again.

What was Hamza's case against extradition?

There were three main arguments: that a number of the allegations on the US indictment were not extradition offences under English law; that too much time has elapsed since the alleged crimes were committed; that Hamza's human rights would be breached if he were extradited, especially as he would probably be incarcerated in a US "Supermax" prison or even sent on to a third country where he might be tortured.

Judge Timothy Workman rejected these submissions. He admitted that he found conditions in the Supermax prison in Colorado "offensive to my sense of propriety" but said he was satisfied that Hamza would not be held in these circumstances indefinitely. He also said there were judicial safeguards in the US which would protect Hamza from re-extradition.

What happens next?

The Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has to approve the extradition. She could try to defer this until Hamza reaches the release point in his current sentence which is likely to be next year. Otherwise there may be the complication of Hamza being sent to the US for trial, returned to Britain to serve the remainder of his sentence, then sent back to the US to serve his American sentence if found guilty there.

However, Hamza's lawyers say they will write to the Home Office and the Attorney-General, asking for him to be prosecuted in Britain. They claim that in the most serious offences, no US citizens were killed. However, in today's ruling, the judge notes that Britain has had ample opportunity to decide whether to bring a prosecution and has decided not to.

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