NEW YORK – A radical Muslim cleric whose fiery sermons at a London mosque were blamed for influencing followers to embrace a holy war against the United States arrived in New York on Saturday along with other terrorism suspects after losing a battle to fight extradition from Britain.
Abu Hamza al-Masri, also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa; and Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz appeared in federal court in Manhattan hours after their arrival in the U.S. to face multiple terrorism-related charges. Two other suspects were sent to Connecticut.
The overnight trip to the United States capped a long-running extradition battle that ended Friday, when Britain’s highest court rejected his final legal bid and ruled he could be sent to the U.S. immediately.
The charges against al-Masri, the best known of the five, include orchestrating the 1998 kidnapping of a group of tourists in Yemen, which left four hostages dead; conspiracy to help set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon in 1999-2000; and providing material and other support to anti-U.S. jihadists in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Al-Masri appeared for less than 15 minutes in front of a federal court judge and entered no plea.
His court-appointed attorney asked that her client, who claims to have lost his hands fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, have his prosthetics immediately returned. She also asked for a dictation machine, saying al-Masri couldn’t take notes, the return of his diabetes medication and special shoes that prevent him from slipping. She said he would need a special diet and a full medical evaluation in prison, according to the Associated Press.
An indictment says al-Masri, an Egyptian-born citizen of Britain, used funds collected at a Finsbury Park mosque in north London, where he preached, to pay for travel expenses for him and alleged co-conspirators to meet with terrorists and oversee training operations.
Among other things, prosecutors say al-Masri gave thousands of dollars to an associate to take to Afghanistan in 2001 to set up a computer lab that would “service Taliban officials” and be controlled by the group and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed by U.S. forces in May 2011.
In all, al-Masri is charged with 11 terrorism-related counts, two of which – conspiracy to take hostages and hostage-taking – carry possible life sentences upon conviction.
In Manhattan, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said the extradition was a “watershed moment.”
“These are men who were at the nerve centers of al-Qaida’s acts of terror,” he said.
For years, al-Masri found a pulpit at the Finsbury Park mosque, where his anti-Western railings were blamed for prompting the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid, to hide explosives in his sneakers and try to bring down an American Airlines jet in 2001. British authorities arrested him in 2004 on charges of inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder of non-Muslims. That prompted the U.S. effort to extradite him to face additional charges on American soil.
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