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U.K.: Extradition Proceedings Begin In Case Of Radical Muslim Cleric

It has been three months since the radical British Muslim cleric Abu Hamza was arrested in London on charges ranging from hostage-taking to aiding Al-Qaeda to attempting to create a terrorist training camp in the United States. American prosecutors are eager to try the 47-year-old cleric in a U.S. court. But the process has moved slowly, with extradition proceedings beginning only last week.

London, 29 July 2004 (RFE/RL) -- "I think that it's very important that action is taken. It seems that every terror suspect around the world, just about, has a trail of slime leading back to Abu Hamza and the Finsbury Park mosque under his control, and I think it is no coincidence that we see various people being arrested and tried around the world having that trail back to Hamza."

That's according to British lawmaker Andrew Dismore, who has actively campaigned for the extradition to the United States of Abu Hamza.

The 47-year-old Muslim cleric has been held at Britain's high-security Belmarch Prison since late May, awaiting extradition to the United States, where he faces 11 terror charges.

They include two counts of hostage-taking in connection with an Al-Qaeda ambush of 16 people in Yemen in 1998, in which three Britons were killed.

Two other charges relate to a plot to organize a quasi-military training school in the U.S. state of Oregon.

Three other charges relate to conspiracy to fund terrorist acts in Afghanistan, a firearms possession charge and conspiracy to provide weapons training.

But the process of getting Hamza into a U.S. courtroom has been slow. Dismore says Hamza's lawyers have used "every available legal means" to delay the process.

Extradition proceedings began just last week. Hamza's defense counsel, Edward Fitzgerald, argued that some of the charges did not justify extradition.

Fitzgerald said there was not sufficient evidence for a trial on any of the charges faced by Hamza.

He also alleged that what evidence existed had been extracted through the "torture" or "degrading treatment" of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. is holding foreign combatants it suspects of terrorist activity.

Using such evidence, Fitzgerald argued, would be a violation of Hamza's human rights.

Hamza has been the source of embarrassment for the majority of British Muslims.

Before his arrest, he had made a number of controversial remarks -- including pronouncements that the 9/11 attacks on the United States were plotted by Jews and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Imam Sajid is a member of the Commission on British Muslims and Islamophobia. He says Hamza's vitriolic sermons have stigmatized the entire community.

"The whole Muslim community is being demonized because of a few individual idiot evil people's actions. The whole community is being labeled as nonacceptable," Sajid said.

Ghayasuddin Siddiqui of the Muslim Parliament says most British Muslims are simply hoping to see that Hamza receives a fair trial. "Our position has been that he was a very irresponsible man, an irrational man -- but he still deserves a fair trial. Only a fair trial will show what is right and what is not right," Siddiqui said.

A spokesman for the British Home Office told RFE/RL that Hamza is due to make a court appearance via video link on 20 August. He has also been ordered to attend a further extradition hearing in October.

A British immigration commission will have to wait until November before hearing arguments on whether to strip Hamza of his British citizenship.

A commission spokesman said the hearing was delayed after Hamza's lawyers applied for state financing to cover the costs of his defense.