LONDON (AP) — Britain's High Court is set to rule Friday afternoon on whether radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri and four other terrorist suspects can be extradited to the United States — judgments the government hopes will clear the final hurdle to their removal after years of legal wrangling.
Judges Duncan Ouseley and John Thomas are handing down judgment in the case of al-Masri, who turned London's Finsbury Park Mosque into a training ground for radical Islamists and is wanted in the U.S. on charges that include helping set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon.
Al Masri and the four other men have been fighting extradition for years, and both British and European courts have ruled that they can be sent to the U.S. to face charges.
They applied to the High Court for a last-minute halt, with al-Masri's lawyers saying his deteriorating physical and mental health means it would be "oppressive" to send him to a U.S. prison.
Lawyers for the preacher, who has one eye and hooks in place of hands he claims to have lost fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, said he suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments and is in need of medical tests.
The Egyptian-born former nightclub bouncer, al-Masri used north London's Finsbury Park Mosque as a base to persuade young Muslims to take up the cause of holy war. The mosque was once attended by Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.
He is wanted in the U.S. on multiple terrorism-related charges, including assisting in the taking of 16 hostages — including two American tourists — in Yemen in 1998 and conspiring to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, between 2000 and 2001.
He has been in a British jail since 2004 on charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims.
Also learning whether they can be extradited are Babar Ahmad, Khaled al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdul Bary and Syed Ahsan.
Ahmad has fought for almost a decade to avoid being sent to the U.S., where he is accused of running terrorist-funding websites. He and Ahsan both face charges including using a website to provide support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country.
Bary and al-Fawwaz were indicted with others, including Osama bin Laden, for their alleged roles in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in east Africa in 1998. Al-Fawwaz faces more than 269 counts of murder.
The various extradition bids have dragged on for as long as 14 years amid wrangles over whether the defendants' human rights would be respected by U.S. authorities.
Government lawyer James Eadie said this week that no further appeals would be possible if the High Court judges ruled against the suspects.
He said in that case the government would be entitled to "move instantly" to deport the men.