Radical preacher Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects can be extradited to the United States, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.
The five men had argued that imprisonment in a ‘supermax’ prison in the US, with the possibility of solitary confinement and a life sentence without parole, would breach their human rights.
But a panel of seven judges in Strasbourg ruled unanimously there was no violation of their rights with regard to either the length of the possible sentence they might face, or conditions within the US prison.
Abu Hamza is wanted on terrorism charges in the US
The five men – Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Khaled al Fawwaz, Syed Tahla Ahsan and Adel Abdul Bary – are wanted on a variety of alleged terrorism offences.
A sixth man, Haroon Rashid Aswat, said to be a close confidante of Hamza, had his case adjourned pending psychiatric reports.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “very pleased” with the result.
Speaking on a trip to Japan, he said: “It is quite right that we have proper legal processes, although sometimes one can get frustrated with how long they take.
“I think it is very important that the deportation and expulsion arrangements (work) promptly and properly, particularly when people are accused of very serious crimes.”
Home Secretary Theresa May said she would “work to ensure that the suspects are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible”.
She said: “I welcome the decision of the European Court of Human Rights to allow the extradition of Abu Hamza and other terror suspects.”
There is now a three-month period during which the men can appeal to be heard by the court’s Grand Chamber, which would involve a hearing before 17 judges – but such appeals are rare.
If no appeal is made, the judgment will be made final in July.
Ahmad, an IT expert from Tooting, South London, has been held on a US extradition warrant since 2004, making him the longest-serving prisoner held without charge or trial in the UK.
He is not accused of any offence in Britain, but is wanted by the US authorities for allegedly running websites to raise money for terrorists, and supplying terrorists with gas masks and night vision goggles.
Ahmad’s family said the extradition will be an abuse of process and, if there is evidence, he should be charged and tried in the UK.
Ahmad’s sister Anna Ahmad said she had spoken to her brother on the phone after the ruling and that he was “composed, but anxious about the future”.
Ahmad told her he was suffering “the worst kind of psychological torture”.
Hamza, who is said to have praised the 9/11 hijackers, has been described by the US as a “terrorist facilitator with global reach”.
In the UK, he was known for his radical sermons outside the Finsbury Park Mosque, with his firebrand rhetoric and distinctive hook and eye patch injuries he claims he sustained clearing mines in Afghanistan.
He was convicted in Britain in 2006 of soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred, and is serving his seven-year sentence at Belmarsh prison.
Babar Ahmad has been in a British prison for nearly eight years
He is wanted by the Americans on a number of charges including conspiring to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon, and facilitating a hostage plot in Yemen in 1998, in which three British citizens and an Australian died.
Ahsan is accused of offences related to Ahmad, and has not been prosecuted in the UK.
Bary and al Fawwaz are wanted in connection with the 1998 US Embassy bombings in East Africa, which killed 200 people.
But the length of time the Strasbourg court has taken to reach its decision has attracted criticism.
Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the ruling on this “basket of cases” only highlighted “the disarray of extradition and removals in the UK”.
“Babar Ahmad alone has waited eight years for a decision on his case,” he said.
“This delay is unacceptable.
“We need a system where the Home Secretary is given more discretion over individual cases, ensuring that the important security cases are fast-tracked.
“I hope she will introduce this when she reviews legislation in the summer.”
The latest ruling will be particularly welcome for the Home Secretary, who would have faced significant political difficulties had the judgment gone the other way, with sections of her own party urging the Government to ignore the European court and extradite the men anyway, and voices from abroad, including the former US ambassador John Bolton, calling for Britain to stand up to Strasbourg.
But it does not solve the problem of Abu Qatada.
The radical cleric, once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, is currently out on bail, although under very restrictive conditions, after the European court ruled he could not be sent back to Jordan.
Qatada’s case has been fought on different grounds – his legal team argue evidence obtained under torture would be used against him, denying him his right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Legally, the cases are very different, but politically they are similarly sensitive.
The Home Secretary has travelled to Jordan to discuss the case, and described the talks as “positive”, but has yet to secure the firm assurances that might secure his extradition.