British Terrorism Suspect Battles US Extradition

A European court on Tuesday will determine whether Babar Ahmad will be extradited to the United States to face terrorism charges. Ahmad is fighting the extradition, and appealed to be prosecuted in the U.K.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Tomorrow, the European Court of Human Rights is expected to rule on a case involving terrorism suspects held in Britain. The U.S. wants them extradited. The case has renewed debate in the U.K. about how that country works with the U.S. on cross-border terrorism cases. From London, Vicki Barker tells us about the debate and the imprisoned man at the center of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This is an offense to enter this establishment. The mobile phone...

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: The BBC went to court to overturn a British government ban on interviewing prison inmate Babar Ahmad...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR SLAMMING)

BARKER: Britain's longest-held prisoner never to have been tried.

BABAR AHMAD: Good morning, Dominic. How are you? You all right? Take a seat.

BARKER: Reporter Dominic Casciani sat down with Ahmad at Long Lartin Prison.

(SOUNDBITE OF BBC BROADCAST)

AHMAD: I've been imprisoned now for maybe eight years without trial. I'm facing extradition to the U.S. and the rest of my life in solitary confinement. I've never been questioned about the allegations against me. I've never been shown the evidence against me.

BARKER: Among other things, U.S. prosecutors accuse Ahmad of leading a terror support cell from his South London home, channeling funds to jihadist groups and creating one of the first and most influential of the Islamist extremist websites.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is one basic weakness of jihad...

BARKER: Host to the now defunct Azzam.com included some of the first footage of suicide bombings of Afghan mujahedeen machine-gunning a captive Russian soldier as accompanying music glorified jihad. The U.S. claims jurisdiction because the British-based site used an American service provider. They say this is exactly the kind of cross-border terror case, the fast-track extradition treaty between the U.S. and the U.K. was created for in the days after 9/11. Yet, all of what Ahmad's accused of are crimes here, too.

So why, his supporters ask, did a British judge decide there were insufficient grounds to try him? Ahmad claims most of the evidence gathered at his arrest went straight to the U.S. British prosecutors now say they only saw a fraction of it. Britain's only Green Party lawmaker, Caroline Lucas, has called for a public inquiry.

CAROLINE LUCAS: I would love to know exactly what happened to the evidence that they collected. How much that went directly to the United States? Why? I think there's a whole gray area here, very, very murky. And we need to get to the bottom of it.

BARKER: One hundred and forty thousand people have signed a petition supporting Ahmad's case, and more than 100 lawyers here have called for parliament to debate his extradition. Dominic Raab is a lawmaker with Britain's governing Conservative Party.

DOMINIC RAAB: When you've got a cross-border case, that ought to be decided not by haggling prosecutors behind closed door but by in open court according to the legal principles set by the U.K. Parliament.

BARKER: Ahmad himself admits he fought for the Muslim cause in Bosnia in the early 1990s and supports the freedom struggle in Chechnya. But he denies any connection to al-Qaida and condemns, he says, terror attacks on civilians. If he violated U.K. law, he says, the U.K. should try him here and now.

AHMAD: In a way, it's like living on death row. It's like you're living every day for a tomorrow that might or might never come. Detention without trial is the most unimaginable type of psychological torture that anyone could think of.

BARKER: One of the other five men fighting extradition has suffered a mental breakdown since his detention and is now in Broadmoor, the institution for the criminally insane. If the European Court of Human Rights agrees that Ahmad and the others would face torture or inhumane or degrading treatment in a U.S. maximum security prison, then British officials would effectively be forced to try them in the U.K. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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