US bids to have UK cleric extradited

The cleric is known for his fiery sermons to London Muslims, and was detained at 0300 BST (local time) by officers from the Extradition and International Assistance Unit, according to Scotland Yard.

The 47-year-old is facing 11 terrorism charges including hostage taking and helping Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terror network.

One of the charges is understood to carry the death penalty, but the British authorities will not extradite anyone facing such a sentence.

The US Justice Department has indicated it is ready to discuss the possibility of rejecting the possible death sentence to secure the extradition.

“The statutory maximum of the offence is penalty of death or life imprisonment,” said Justice Department spokesman Bryan Sierra.

“I can’t comment on whether we are going to drop anything, but obviously if the British seek assurances from us regarding the death penalty, that it will not be sought, we will address that with the British.”

The kidnapping charges relate to the seizure of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in December 1998, two of whom were Americans.

Four captives – an Australian and three Britons – were killed when Yemeni armed forces attempted a rescue.

US law enforcement officials were jubilant at the controversial cleric’s detention.

Abu Hamza “is the real deal,” said New York police commissioner Ray Kelly.

“Think of him as a freelance consultant to terrorist groups worldwide,” he said.

Mr Hamza, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, appeared at London’s top-security Belmarsh Magistrates’ Court in the first-phase of the extradition process.

Looking tired and slightly dishevelled, and standing behind a glass security screen, Mr Hamza spoke only to confirm his name and date of birth, and then respond to the question of whether he consented to the extradition.

Mr Hamza paused and smiled slightly before replying: “I don’t really think I want to, no.”

The cleric’s lawyers asked for him to be released on bail, but district judge Timothy Workman refused, remanding him in custody until June 3. The main extradition hearing was scheduled for July 23.

Britain’s tabloid press has long demanded that Mr Hamza be stripped of his citizenship and thrown out due to his support for bin Laden.

Born in Alexandria to an Egyptian army officer, Mr Hamza became a UK citizen through marriage in 1981, two years after he came to the country to become a civil engineer.

In the late 1980s Hamza went to Afghanistan where he sustained injuries to an eye and both hands – one of which he replaced with a metal hook – while, according to him, clearing Soviet landmines.

He has become a hugely controversial figure for his sermons at north London’s Finsbury Park mosque calling for jihad against Western interests and denouncing the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

He shot to national notoriety following comments in support of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

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