An extremist preacher with hooks for hands and four other terrorism suspects arrived in the United States from England early on Saturday morning under tight security to face trial.
Abu Hamza al-Masri appeared in court for the first hearing over charges that he conspired to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and that he helped abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
He entered no plea in the Manhattan court, while four other alleged jihadists – Syed Talha Ahsan, Babar Ahmad, Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary – all pleaded not guilty to a series of terrorist offences.
Hamza came into court without his recognisable hooks, and with both arms exposed through his short-sleeved blue prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, asked that his prosthetics be immediately returned ‘so he can use his arms’.
The Islamist fanatic lost the last of his countless appeals in a legal farce that has seen him thwart extradition for more than eight years at a cost to British taxpayers of millions of pounds.
An armoured police van collected the hate preacher from HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire at around 7.30pm yesterday, just a few hours after the decision was made.
The van, heavily flanked by a number of other police vehicles with their emergency lights on, drove more than 130 miles to the U.S Air Force base RAF Mildenhall in Suffolk.
Two planes carrying the suspects took off shortly before midnight.
The convoy of vehicles with blue flashing lights earlier entered the military base through a side entrance at 10.10pm after completing the journey in just under three hours.
Paperwork was then completed and after years of fighting against it, the group were successfully handed over to U.S. marshals, who were waiting to escort them on the 3,700-mile flight to the United States.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the extraditions ‘a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.’
He added: ‘As is charged, these are men who were at the nerve centers of Al Qaeda’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.’
Yesterday Hamza’s lawyers – in a move condemned as a blatant delaying tactic – had gone back to court again to claim he was unfit to stand trial.
They said the ‘harsh’ conditions in his cell at HMP Belmarsh had left him unwell, sleep-deprived and depressed – and demanded an MRI scan.
After a three-day hearing, a judge at the High Court in London yesterday said he was ‘wholly unpersuaded’ by their claims, adding: ‘The sooner he is put on trial, the better.’
Making clear no further appeals would be allowed in the case, Sir John Thomas, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, rejected the idea that Hamza was unfit to plead.
If depressed, he said, Hamza could get anti-depressants in the U.S.
He also criticised delays in the extradition process, saying it was ‘unacceptable’ that the case should have taken so long, and warning of ‘real dangers’ of a system that allows repeated appeals on issues that had already been decided.
The judges also rejected legal challenges by Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Khaled Al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, who were part of the convoy to arrive at the airbase.
A 20-seater Gulfstream V jet owned by the US Department of Justice and a privately-owned Dassault Falcon 900 jet were visible from the airfield perimeter.
The two white aircraft were in stark contrast to the base’s fleet of United States Air Force KC-135 fuel tanker jets and C-130 transport planes.
Official flight records reveal that the twin-engine Gulfstream jet arrived at RAF Mildenhall on Tuesday night after a six hour and 27 minute flight from Reagan National airport in Washington DC.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said: ‘These extraditions mark the end of a lengthy process of litigation through the UK courts and the ECHR.
‘The U.S. government agrees with the ECHR’s findings that the conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons – including in maximum security facilities – do not violate European standards.
‘The law enforcement relationship between the United States and United Kingdom is predicated on trust, respect, and the common goals of protecting our nations and eliminating safe havens for criminals, including terrorists.’
Hamza, who is missing his right hand and an eye, has celebrated the September 11 terror attacks, preached jihad to a young congregation, and landed the British taxpayer with a bill running into millions of pounds for his detention and legal costs.
Hamza faces 11 counts of criminal conduct related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon, between June 2000 and December 2001.
If found guilty the 54-year-old is likely to die behind bars.
Source: The Daily Mail