Extradited accused terrorists appear in US courts
A partially blind extremist Egyptian-born preacher charged in multiple terrorism plots has appeared in a US court without the use of his arms, complaining that prosthetic hooks he uses were taken away as he and four other terrorism defendants were flown to New York from London.
Abu Hamza al-Masri, 54, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, entered a Manhattan courtroom under heavy security to face charges he conspired with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and helped abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
Abu Hamza came into court with both arms exposed through his short-sleeved blue prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, asked that his prosthetics be immediately returned “so he can use his arms”.
In the 1990s, Abu Hamza turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque into a training ground for extremist Islamists, attracting men including September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
His court appearance followed soon after two other defendants brought to New York, Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary, entered not guilty pleas to charges that they participated in the bombings of two US embassies in Africa in 1998.
The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. They were indicted in a case that also charged Osama bin Laden.
The overnight trip to the United States came after a long extradition fight that ended on Friday, when Britain’s High Court ruled that the men had no more grounds for appeal and could be sent to the US immediately. The men have been battling extradition for between eight and 14 years.
Abu Hamza has been in a British jail since 2004 on separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims.
In New Haven, Connecticut, earlier in the day, Syed Talha Ahsan, 33, and Babar Ahmad, 38, entered not guilty pleas to charges that they provided terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya with cash, recruits and equipment. All five of the men face up to life in prison if they are convicted.
Abu Hamza, a one-time nightclub bouncer, entered no plea, saying only “I do” when he was asked by US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas whether he swears that his financial affidavit used to determine is he qualifies for a court-appointed lawyer was correct.
Ms Shroff told Maas that Abu Hamza needed use of his arms. “Otherwise, he will not be able to function in a civilized manner.”
She also asked for a dictating machine, saying he can’t take notes, and the return of his diabetes medication and special shoes that prevent him from slipping. She said he will need a special diet in prison and a full medical evaluation.
His beard and hair white, Abu Hamza peered through glasses as he consulted with Ms Shroff and another court-appointed lawyer, Jerrod Thompson-Hicks, in a proceeding that lasted less than 15 minutes.
Abu Hamza has one eye and claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. His lawyers in England said he suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments.
Outside court, Ms Shroff took note of her client’s condition, saying: “I don’t think he slept at all.” Still, she added, “He seemed very much like a gentleman.”
Ms Shroff and Mr Thompson-Hicks also represented al-Fawwaz, 50, a citizen of Saudi Arabia. Mr Thompson-Hicks said he was concerned whether his client would be properly treated for hypertension and high blood pressure. Attorney Andrew Patel, representing Bary, 52, an Egyptian citizen, said his client needed asthma medicine and treatment for other medical issues.
Mr Patel, who declined to comment afterward, told Maas that Bary reserved the right to request bail in the future.
Four others who were tried in 2001 in the August 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania are serving life sentences.
Ahsan, 33, and Ahmad, 38, were kept detained while they await trial in Connecticut, where an internet service provider was allegedly used to host a website. Their lawyers declined to comment.
Ahmad made efforts to secure GPS devices, Kevlar helmets, night vision goggles, ballistic vests and camouflage uniforms, prosecutors said.
US Attorney Preet Bharara called the extraditions “a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.”
He added: “As is charged, these are men who were at the nerve centres of Al-Qa’ida’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.”