by Brian Whitaker
Originally published in Middle East International, 5 November 2004
Moves to extradite Abu Hamza al-Masri from Britain to the United States have been put on hold following a decision by the British authorities to bring 16 charges against him - including incitement to murder.
Last week the fiery London-based cleric made a virtual appearance at the Central Criminal Court by video link from Belmarsh high-security prison where he has been held since the US issued its extradition warrant last May. Bail was refused.
Under British law he now faces 10 charges that he ‘did solicit or encourage’ others at public meetings to kill non-Muslims, including four charges that refer specifically to attacks on Jews. He is accused under the 1861 Offences Against the Persons Act and could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment if he is convicted.
He also faces four charges under the 1986 Public Order Act of ‘using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour with the intention of stirring up racial hatred’.
A further charge under the same law is that he possessed eight ‘threatening, abusive or insulting’ audio and video tapes which he intended to distribute or play to stir up racial hatred.
The final charge, under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act 2000, is possession of a document alleged to contain information ‘of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’.
The American extradition request was the first to be made under a new and controversial ‘fast track’ procedure which in Abu Hamza’s case now seems likely to be anything but fast. The British charges take priority and the extradition hearings will not resume until they have all been deal with.
Yemen has also been seeking to extradite Abu Hamza but it has no extradition agreement with Britain.
For several years, Egyptian-born Abu Hamza controlled Finsbury Park Mosque in north London where he also ran an organisation called Supporters of Sharia. He was banned from preaching in the mosque last year but until his arrest continued to preach and lead prayers in the street outside.
Meanwhile, his treatment in jail has been causing controversy. He initially claimed that he had been offered non-halal food and sections of the British press have complained about the cost of his care.
Abu Hamza lost both hands and an eye some years ago and wore metal hooks on the ends of his arms. These were removed, allegedly for security reasons, following his arrest. More recently he has been provided with new aluminium hooks, at a cost of £5,000 to the National Health Service. He also reportedly receives attention from a male nurse for several hours a day.