LONDON, England (AP) — A European court ruled yesterday that radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri can be extradited to the United States to face terrorism charges, including allegedly trying to set up an al-Qaida training camp in rural Oregon.
The decision means that al-Masri, considered one of Britain's most notorious extremists, could be deported within weeks.
Al-Masri and four other terrorism suspects in Britain had argued before the European Court of Human Rights that they could face prison conditions and jail terms in the US that would expose them to "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of the European human rights code.
In April, the Strasbourg, France-based court rejected those claims. Al-Masri and the others lodged an appeal, but yesterday the court refused to hear it. "Today the Grand Chamber Panel decided to reject the request," the court said in a brief statement. It did not give a reason for refusing the appeal.
Britain's Home Office and the US Department of Justice welcomed the decision. "We will work to ensure that the individuals are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible," said the Home Office.
The suspects, who are accused of crimes such as raising funds for terrorists, could face life sentences in a maximum-security prison.
The US accuses Al-Masri, who is blind in one eye and wears a hook for a hand, of assisting the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998 and of conspiring to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, between 2000 and 2001.
He is also accused of preaching jihad — holy war — in Afghanistan.
The cleric, who is known for his fiery anti-Western and anti-Semitic outbursts, claims he has lost his Egyptian nationality, but Britain considers him an Egyptian citizen. He is currently serving a seven-year prison term in Britain for inciting hatred.
In Washington, Dean Boyd, spokesman for the National Security Division of the US justice department, said: "We are pleased that the litigation before the European Court of Human Rights in these cases has come to an end, and we will be working with the UK authorities on the arrangements to bring these subjects to the United States for prosecution."