Terrorism Suspects Face Extradition To U.S.

Britain's High Court ruled that five terror suspects, including radical preacher Abu Hamza, can be extradited immediately to the United States. The five suspects have fought for years to avoid facing charges in the U.S.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. In Britain, the radical cleric Abu Hamza has lost his final battle to avoid extradition to the United States. Britain's high court judges ruled today that Hamza and four other suspected terrorists must now be sent to the U.S. to face trial on terror charges related to al-Qaida. That ends a legal battle that, in Hamza's case, has lasted nearly 14 years. Vicki Barker reports from London.

VICKI BARKER, BYLINE: Abu Hamza's lawyers had made one last bid to stop his extradition. They said their client's mental condition has deteriorated, that he should have a brain scan to determine if he's fit to plead. But the justices noted there are excellent medical facilities in the U.S. and they ruled that neither Hamza nor the other four terror suspects had produced any new or compelling reasons why they should remain in the U.K. Within hours, a convoy of police cars was pulling away from the prison where the men have been held. Ben Keith is an expert in British extradition law.

BEN KEITH: They've been all the way to the European court of human rights and back. This was a permission for judicial review. That's refused. In a criminal case there is no further appeal.

BARKER: Among other things, U.S. prosecutors accuse Abu Hamza of trying to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Two of the other men, Khaled El-Fawaz and Adel Abdul Bary are wanted in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in east Africa. And the remaining two, Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, are accused of trying to raise funds for terrorism. All five have been linked to al-Qaida. Babar Ahmad's father, Ashfaq, has campaigned to have him tried here in the U.K.

ASHFAQ AHMAD: All the evidence against him was relevant in this country here, so I can't understand why at all should he be sent there. And so he should have been tried here.

BARKER: But in a series of appeals that traveled the length and breadth of the British and European justice systems, all the judges have sided with the U.S. Both the U.S. and U.K. governments have welcomed today's ruling. The head of Britain's judiciary, the Lord Chief Justice, has spoken of his fury at the delays. He said lawyers for the accused had turned a process that should have taken weeks or months into years. A sentiment shared by Briton Laurence Whitehouse. His wife, Margaret, died in Yemen in 1998 after radical Islamists linked to Abu Hamza kidnapped 16 tourists, including two Americans.

LAURENCE WHITEHOUSE: It's been 13 years now. That's a long time. It's been through all the judicial processes and there is no further way.

BARKER: Former Home Secretary John Reid is one of six British home secretaries to have had to grapple with the Abu Hamza case.

JOHN REID: And I think there will be a great deal of relief and satisfaction by people throughout the country who've been listening to this for between 8 and 14 years.

BARKER: The case may prompt a change in the legal appeals system here in the U.K. and it will almost certainly speed up any future extradition requests from the United States. For NPR News, I'm Vicki Barker in London.

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