As European human rights judges rule five men, including Abu Hamza, can be extradited to the US to face terrorism charges, the father of one tells Channel 4 News his son should be tried in the UK.
The European Court of Human Rights this morning rejected claims that the men, Babar Ahmad, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz, would be subject to “ill treatment” if they are sent to the US to be tried for terrorist offences.
They have three months before today’s ruling is made final, and will not be put on a plane until the Grand Chamber of the court has considered whether to allow an appeal.
But very few cases are heard in the chamber, meaning that the men have little realistic chance of remaining in the UK. If convicted, sentences could be anything up to life in solitary confinement at ADX Florence in Colorado, a Supermax prison.
The ruling was welcomed by prime minister David Cameron, who said during a trade mission to south-east Asia: “I am very pleased with the news. It is quite right that we have proper legal processes, although sometimes one can get frustrated with how long they take.”
Home secretary, Theresa May, said the government “will work to ensure that the suspects are handed over the the US authorities as quickly as possible”.
A decision on a sixth man, Haroon Aswat, alleged to be an aide to Hamza, was delayed after judges ruled they needed more information about him.
Of the cases, the charges against Hamza are the most serious. The former preacher of Finsbury Park mosque in north London, who was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment in Britain in 2006 for inciting hatred, is accused by US authorities of being in contact with Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, and of being involved in a plot to take 16 western tourists as hostages in Yemen in December 1998. Four people were killed during that incident.
He is also charged with attempting to set up a training camp for “violent jihad” in Oregon in 1999.
Two of the men – Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, who are both accused of supporting terrorists and conspiracy to kill by operating websites from London – have been in detention at HMP Long Lartin for eight and six years respectively, despite not being charged of any offences in the UK.
They are accused by US authorities of providing material support to terrorists and plotting with US nationals by running a website during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Laywers for the men argue that they have been denied justice in the UK because British prosecutors failed to properly consider evidence gathered which would determine whether they could be tried in Britain. This happened despite two police raids on Mr Ahsan’s family home in Tooting, south London, in 2006, during which officers seized personal belongings of Mr Ahsan and his family.
Today’s ruling was greeted with disappointment by Mr Ahsan’s father. Speaking from his home, Syed Abu Ahsan, 73, told Channel 4 News: “We are devastated. Until this morning, we had very small hopes that they wouldn’t have to go, or that if they went, they wouldn’t have to go to the Supermax prison. This is the most terrible news for us.
“In this country, Talha is completely innocent. Even though we know he is innocent, if they think he has done something wrong, he should be tried in this country. We will still try everything we can.”
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Mr Ahsan said that the family were now considering whether to appeal against the decision. He said: “My son has Asperger’s syndrome, he is not well. Gary McKinnon also suffers from Asperger’s, and he got bail. So we want to know why our son has been treated differently?
“If he goes to a Supermax prison, it will be very sad. Supermax is horrible – you can’t touch the soil, you don’t have contact with other humans. The last six years have been terrible for us, but at least we could speak to him. We could go to visit him once a week.
“If he goes to Supermax, we won’t be able to see him, to speak to him. How will we see our son?”
Disappointment was also expressed by the family of Babar Ahmed, Mr Ahsan’s co-accused, who similarly demand justice on British soil. Last year, an e-petition calling on the government to put him on trial in the UK has received almost 150,000 signatures.
His family said in a statement: “There has been a serious abuse of procses with the police completely mishandling the evidence seized from Babar’s home by sending it to the US before the CPS could take a view on it.
“Babar is a British citizen accused of a crime said to have been committed in the UK and all the evidence against him was gathered in this country. Nevertheless, British justice appears to have been subcontracted to the US. This should immediately be rectified by putting Babar on trial in the UK and ordering a full public inquiry into the matter.”
The human rights group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, which has been campaigning on extradition, described the ruling as “shocking”. Richard Haley, chair, said: “It’s a slap in the face for Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, who has made it clear that he thinks that prolonged solitary confinement is unacceptable.
“The Strasbourg judges need to listen to the former prison guard who described ADX Florence, where the men would be sent if convicted in the US, as a ‘cleaner version of hell’.”
Born in 1979 in London, the School of Oriental and African Studies graduate, who was educated at the fee-paying Dulwich College, was arrested by British police acting on a US search warrant in June 2006 after they were tipped off by detectives investigating Babar Ahmad. Mr Ahsan is accused by US authorities of providing support to terrorists and conspiracy to kill through operating websites from London.
US prosecutors allege that because the websites’ servers were temporarily located in Conneticut, Mr Ahsan has committed an offence under US law. Others have argued that the now-defunct Azzam Publications was more of an Islamic news service relating to current affairs, but was not intended for terrorist activities. Mr Ahsan denies being involved in any terrorist activities.
First arrested in December 2003 in a major Scotland Yard counter-terrorism operation, 37-year-old Babar Ahmad, also from Tooting, south London, was released without charge days later. At the time of his arrest, anti-terror chiefs placed him close to the top of their list of al-Qaeda extremists, and he had been under MI5 surveillance for some time before his arrest.
Last year, he learnt the agency had placed a listening device in the prayer room at his house which recorded his arrest. Mr Ahmad alleged assault by officers during his arrest prior to the discovery; he was compensated by the Metropolitan Police to the tune of £60,000, but officers were cleared of criminal charges. Further prison visits with his MP, Sadiq Khan, were also covertly bugged by police. Mr Ahmad was not charged with any crime in Britain, but material recovered during raids in 2003 was handed to American authorities who then demanded his extradition. He also argues he should be tried in the UK.
Born in Egypt in 1958, Abu Hamza came to the UK to study during the early 1980s, receiving British citizenship through marriage. He was said to have fought against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, where he suffered his distinctive injuries to his hands and eye. He began preaching at Finsbury Park mosque after returning to the UK, and was formally suspended by the Charity Commission over inflammatory speeches.
Convicted in 2006 of soliciting to murder and stirring up racial hatred, Hamza is currently serving a seven year prison sentence. He was first arrested by British officers acting for the US in May 2004, but the extradition was halted after the UK decided to try and him for allegations relating to his sermons. He is accused of a conspiracy to take hostages in Yemen in 1998, alongside Aswat, during which four people were killed. He is also accused of planning to establish a training camp in Bly, Oregon, and that he provided goods and services to the Taliban.