A U.S. judge ordered that Islamist preacher Abu Hamza, who Washington sees as an al-Qaeda mastermind, be kept in detention after a brief court hearing Saturday in New York where the terror suspect was told of the 11 charges he faces.
Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects who were extradited overnight from Britain appeared in U.S. court in the latest stage of a transatlantic legal saga. All men except Abu Hamza, who entered no plea, pleaded not guilty.
The one-eyed extremist, whose trademark hook on the stump of his right arm and other prosthetic limbs were removed, did not speak at the hearing, except for a few words muttered to his court-appointed lawyer.
Abu Hamza, 54, faces terror charges over a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen, setting up an al-Qaeda-style training camp in the northwestern state of Oregon and for “facilitating violent jihad” in Afghanistan. He will be formally charged on Tuesday.
Wearing a navy blue prisoner’s outfit, the long-bearded Abu Hamza kept his shaved head of white hair bowed during the hearing before US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas, who summarized the 11 charges before him.
Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for the cleric, requested the authorities return his special shoes, without which “he will not be able to function in a civilized way” due to foot trouble, and requested medical care on account of his diabetes.
Appearing in the same New York court were Egyptian Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz of Saudi Arabia, 50. They are both charged with conspiring with members of al-Qaeda to kill U.S. nationals and attack U.S. interests abroad.
Bary, 52, is also charged with murder, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and other offenses in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those blasts destroyed the buildings, killing 224 people and injuring thousands more.
Two others, British citizens Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, appeared before a judge in New Haven, Connecticut. They were ordered held in custody. Another hearing is set for October 15.
Ahmad, 38, and Ahsan, 33, are charged with terror-related offenses stemming from their involvement in Azzam Publications in London, which allegedly provided material support to militant Chechen separatists, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups.
They were arrested in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
U.S. officials hailed the extradition of Abu Hamza and the other terror suspects as a “watershed moment” in Washington’s battle against al-Qaeda.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Abu Hamza rose to prominence after giving fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, but has been jailed in Britain for eight years after being convicted of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.
His date with American justice, and those of Bary and Fawwaz, “makes good on a promise to the American people to use every available diplomatic, legal and administrative tool to pursue and prosecute charged terrorists no matter how long it takes,” Bharara said.
Abu Hamza failed to convince British judges that his extradition should be blocked in order for medical tests to be carried out over alleged depression.
The judges said they were “wholly unpersuaded” that he was unfit to face trial, and added that “the sooner he is put on trial, the better,” dismissing arguments that this rights would be breached in U.S. custody.
In related news, the British government will try to speed up the extradition process after an eight-year legal battle to send radical preacher Abu Hamza to the United States, Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday.
“I’m absolutely delighted that Abu Hamza is now out of this country,” Cameron said.
“Like the rest of the public I'm sick to the back teeth of people who come here, threaten our country, who stay at vast expense to the taxpayer and we can't get rid of them.”
The United States first requested Abu Hamza’s extradition in 2004 and it was approved in 2008 but the case then spent another four years in the European Court of Human Rights.
Cameron said the British government must “learn every lesson” from the saga.
“How do we stop these people coming in? How do we get rid of them more quickly? How do we make sure they don't spend so long at taxpayers’ expense?” Cameron said.
Home Secretary Theresa May echoed his comments.
“It is right to look at the process. It is frustrating, I think everybody is frustrated at how long it has taken to extradite these particular individuals,” she told BBC Radio.
“We will look very carefully at the comments that have been made by the Lord Chief Justice and look seriously at this whole process and whether there are too many stages in these processes.
“I think we do need to make some changes.”