UK court agrees radical cleric's US extradition

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LONDON, Nov 15 (Reuters) A British court ruled today that radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri could be extradited to the United States to face terrorism charges including trying to set up an al Qaeda training camp in Oregon.

Egyptian-born Hamza, 49, serving a seven-year jail term in Britain for inciting his followers to murder non-believers, is wanted by US authorities on 11 charges.

The US indictment accuses Hamza -- who used to wear a hook in place of a missing hand -- of attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, from 1999 to early 2000, and also providing support to al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Hamza, who applauded the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, also faces charges that he was involved in plotting the taking of 16 Western hostages in Yemen in 1998.

Four of the hostages, three Britons and an Australian, were killed when Yemeni troops stormed the militants' hideout.

If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of up to 100 years in prison.

London's City of Westminster Magistrates Court approved the extradition but that decision has to be ratified by the British Home Secretary (interior minister).

''I am therefore satisfied that the matters for which the United States of America seeks the defendant's extradition are extradition offences ... and that extradition would be compatible with the defendant's convention rights,'' said Judge Timothy Workman.

Under new extradition laws brought in this year, suspects can be extradited from Britain to the United States while they are serving a jail term.

However, Workman criticised the solitary confinement regime at US top security prisons and said evidence that a prisoner might be locked in one for long periods could be enough to block an extradition on human rights grounds.

Hamza, a former nightclub bouncer, was jailed by a London court in February 2006 over sermons which prosecutors said repeatedly advocated the killing of Jews and other non-Muslims.

Although he was never linked to any specific plot, police said his Finsbury Park Mosque had acted as a base for militants.

A number of Islamists jailed for plotting terrorist attacks in Britain in recent years worshipped there, and the mosque had attracted the likes of convicted ''shoebomber'' Richard Reid and jailed Sept 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.

Hamza, who has one eye and wore the hook in place of one of two hands he lost in Afghanistan, had long been a hate figure for the British tabloid press, a sentiment that grew in intensity after the London bombings in July 2005.

However after his conviction, his British lawyer said Hamza felt he was a ''prisoner of faith''. His lawyers said they would fight the extradition request on human rights grounds and argued he should be tried in Britain over the Yemen charges.

Reuters PD RN1800

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