An extremist preacher withÂ hooks for hands and four other terrorism suspects arrived in theÂ United StatesÂ from England early on Saturday morning under tight security to faceÂ trial.
Abu Hamza al-MasriÂ appeared in court for the first hearing over charges that he conspired to set upÂ a terrorist training camp in Oregon and that heÂ helped abduct 16 hostages, twoÂ of them American tourists, in Yemen inÂ 1998.
He entered no plea in theÂ Manhattan court, while four other alleged jihadists – Syed Talha Ahsan, BabarÂ Ahmad, KhaledÂ al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary – all pleaded not guilty to aÂ series of terrorist offences.
Hamza came into courtÂ without his recognisable hooks, and with both arms exposed through hisÂ short-sleeved blue prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff,Â asked that his prosthetics be immediately returned ‘so he can use hisÂ arms’.
The Islamist fanatic lost the last of hisÂ countless appeals in a legal farce that has seen him thwart extradition for moreÂ than eight years at a cost to British taxpayers of millions ofÂ pounds.
An armoured police van collected the hateÂ preacher from HMP LongÂ Lartin in Worcestershire at around 7.30pm yesterday, just a few hours after theÂ decision was made.
The van, heavily flanked by aÂ number ofÂ other police vehicles with their emergency lights on, drove more than 130 milesÂ to the U.S Air Force base RAF MildenhallÂ in Suffolk.
Two planes carrying theÂ suspects took off shortly beforeÂ midnight.
The convoy of vehicles with blue flashingÂ lights earlier entered the military base through a side entrance at 10.10pmÂ after completing the journey in just under three hours.
Paperwork was then completed and after yearsÂ of fighting against it, the group were successfully handed over to U.S.Â marshals, who were waiting to escort them on the 3,700-mile flight to the UnitedÂ States.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called theÂ extraditions ‘a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicateÂ terrorism.’
He added: ‘As is charged, these are men whoÂ were at the nerve centers of Al Qaeda’s acts of terror, and they caused blood toÂ be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.’
Yesterday Hamza’s lawyers — in a move condemned as a blatant delaying tactic — had gone back to court againÂ to claimÂ he was unfit to stand trial.
They said the ‘harsh’ conditions in his cellÂ at HMP Belmarsh had left himÂ unwell, sleep-deprived and depressed — andÂ demanded an MRI scan.
After a three-day hearing, a judge at theÂ High Court in London yesterday said he was ‘wholly unpersuaded’ by their claims,Â adding: ‘The sooner he isÂ put on trial, the better.’
Making clear no further appeals would beÂ allowed in the case, Sir John Thomas, President of the Queen’s Bench Division,Â rejected the idea that HamzaÂ was unfit to plead.
If depressed, he said, Hamza could getÂ anti-depressants in the U.S.
He also criticised delays in theÂ extraditionÂ process, saying it was ‘unacceptable’ that the case shouldÂ have taken so long,Â and warning of ‘real dangers’ of a system thatÂ allows repeated appeals onÂ issues that had already been decided.
The judges also rejected legalÂ challenges byÂ Babar Ahmad, Syed Ahsan, Khaled Al-Fawwaz and Adel AbdulÂ Bary, who were part ofÂ the convoy to arrive at the airbase.
A 20-seater Gulfstream V jet owned by the USÂ Department of Justice and aÂ privately-owned Dassault Falcon 900 jet wereÂ visible from the airfieldÂ perimeter.
The twoÂ white aircraft were in starkÂ contrast to the base’s fleet of UnitedÂ States Air Force KC-135 fuel tanker jetsÂ and C-130 transport planes.
OfficialÂ flight records reveal that theÂ twin-engine Gulfstream jet arrived at RAF Mildenhall on Tuesday night after aÂ six hour and 27 minute flight fromÂ Reagan National airport in WashingtonÂ DC.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said: ‘These extraditions mark the end of a lengthy process of litigation throughÂ the UKÂ courts and the ECHR.
‘The U.S. government agrees with theÂ ECHR’sÂ findings that the conditions of confinement in U.S. prisons -Â including inÂ maximum security facilities – do not violate EuropeanÂ standards.
‘The law enforcement relationshipÂ betweenÂ the United States and United Kingdom is predicated on trust,Â respect, and theÂ common goals of protecting our nations and eliminatingÂ safe havens forÂ criminals, including terrorists.’
Hamza, who is missing his rightÂ hand and anÂ eye, has celebrated the September 11 terror attacks,Â preached jihad to a youngÂ congregation, and landed the British taxpayerÂ with a bill running into millionsÂ of pounds for his detention and legalÂ costs.
Hamza faces 11 counts of criminal conductÂ related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, advocating violent jihadÂ inÂ Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon, between June 2000 and December 2001.
If found guilty the 54-year-old is likely toÂ die behind bars.
Source: The Daily Mail