Abu Hamza extradition: Q&A

The European court of human rights has ruled that six individuals, including the radical cleric Abu Hamza, can be extradited to the US to face terror charges. Here's what you need to know about the case.

Videograb from a video issued by the Metropolitan Police of a sermon dated 13 October 2000 by Muslim cleric Abu HamzaMetropolitan Police, PA

Who is Abu Hamza?

Abu Hamza al-Masri is a militant Islamic cleric, and is a former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London. He is currently in prison in the UK.

He was first arrested in May 2004 and detained on remand, after being indicted in the US for allegedly plotting to establish a terrorist training camp in the state of Oregon. He is also accused of a conspiracy to take hostages in Yemen in 1998, in an incident that let to the death of four people.

Abu Hamza was later found guilty in 2006 of 11 charges under the Terrorism Act 2000. The process to try and extradite Abu Hamza to the US has been continuing for a number of years.

Why has the extradition process taken so long?

Under EU law, the UK cannot extradite anybody to a country which has the death penalty. One such country is the United States. However this regulation does not technically prevent extradition, but rather prevents any court from imposing a sentence of death if the defendant is found guilty.

The extradition process was temporarily halted when the UK decided to charge and try Abu Hamza on allegations relating to his sermons.

Meanwhile Abu Hamza appealed against extradition in the European court of human rights, and in 2010 the court indefinitely blocked his extradition until it was satisfied that he would not be treated inhumanely.

Abu Hamza has also been charged by British police with various crimes under the Terrorism Act 2000, including encouraging the murder of non-Muslims and intent to stir up racial hatred. He was found guilty on 11 charges in 2006 and sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.

Why has extradition finally been approved?

The European court of human rights has now ruled that Abu Hamza and others would not face any violation of their human rights when undergoing solitary confinement in a US "supermax" prison.

The court rejected the men's claims that they could face prison conditions and jail terms which would expose them to "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" in breach of the European convention on human rights.

Who else has been sanctioned for extradition?

Four others:

  • Babar Ahmad
  • Talha Ahsan
  • Adel Abdul Bary
  • Khaled al-Fawwaz

Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan are accused of supporting terrorism through a website operated in London. Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz allegedly played a part in organising the 1998 US Embassy bombings in east Africa.

A spokesman for Babar Ahmad, who has been held for a record of nearly eight years without trial, said he would fight on against his extradition. In a recent interview for the BBC, he appealed to be charged and tried in the UK because his alleged crimes were committed here.

Has the court made any exceptions in its ruling?

Yes. In the case of Haroon Aswat, judges said they could not yet sanction extradition because they wished to see more submissions on the defendant's schizophrenia and how that would be treated were he sent to the US.

Can the men appeal against the court's ruling?

Yes. They have three months to try to persuade the European court of human rights to reopen the entire case. If the men fail to launch an appeal, their extradition to the United States will go ahead.

The judges ruled that: "The court decided to continue its indication to the United Kingdom government that the applicants should not be extradited until this judgment became final or until the case was referred to the Grand Chamber (of the Human Rights court)".

Why is the court's ruling so significant?

It defines for the first time how and when the US can successfully seek the extradition of terror suspects from the UK. This sets a precedent for any future cases involving people held in this country who may also be wanted on charges in the US.

What has the government said about the news?

Home Secretary Theresa May said the government "will work to ensure that the suspects are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible".

David Cameron, the prime minister, said: "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."

How have the families of the suspects responded?

Babar Ahmad's father, Ashfaq, said he and his family were "very disappointed" by the court's decision. "The fundamental question remains as to why this matter has even got to Strasbourg, and why Babar needs to be extradited to the US," he said. "There has been a serious abuse of process."