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British Poet Talha Ahsan Faces Extradition

September 24, 2012
The Independent - September 24, 2012


Hook handed cleric Abu Hamza and four other Muslim men - some of whom have been held without charge in Britain for more than a decade - look set to be extradited to the United States within days after the European Court of Human Rights threw out their last legal lifeline.

The men are all wanted by American prosecutors for alleged involvement in violent Islamism and have fought a lengthy legal battle to avoid extradition. But in a final blow to their hopes of staying in the UK, European judges last night rejected their attempt to appeal a ruling from earlier this year which said their extradition could go ahead.

The decision means the Home Office is likely to push ahead with flying the men Stateside within the next few weeks.

Hamza rose to fame in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks as a preacher of violent Islamism and used to hold impromptu sermons outside Finsbury mosque. He is the only one of the five men who has been prosecuted for a crime in the British courts after he was jailed in 2006 for seven years on charges of soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred.

Two other men - Khalid al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary - are wanted by US prosecutors for their alleged involvement in al-Qa'ida's devastating bombings against the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. According to the indictment against them, both men were allegedly involved in running al-Qa'ida's London office at the time of the attacks and helped the terrorist network claim responsibility for the bombings. Saudi born Fawwaz has been in British custody since 1998 whilst Egyptian born Bary was arrested a year later.

The cases against the last two defendants, Babar Ahmed and Talha Ahsan, has been much more controversial and has prompted a significant campaign to keep them in Britain as well as intense criticism of our extradition agreements with the United States.

According to the indictment against them, both men are wanted for allegedly running pro-Islamist militant websites under the banner of Azzam Publications. One of the site servers was based in Connecticut allowing prosecutors to file charges in an American court. The websites espoused a millenarian jihadist world view that supported, among others, the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and militants in Chechnya and Bosnia but were shut down shortly after September 11.

Ahmed was arrested in 2004 whilst Ahsan was picked up in 2006 and they havwe both been held without charge since then. The two men have denied involvement in Azzam Publications and supporters have argued that if they had committed any crime on UK soil they should have been prosecuted in Britain.

In an interview with The Independent earlier this summer, Mr Ahsan's family accused the government of outsourcing prosecutions to the United States.

The case against both men was also muddied by the revelation that Ahmad was beaten by officers during his arrest and won £60,000 compensation from the Metropolitan Police.

All five men fought independent legal battles through the British courts to have the extradition requests against them from the United States thrown out. As each case proceeded to a higher court they were eventually lumped in together. After their appeals were thrown out in the British courts they appealed to Strasbourg, arguing that their human rights would be infringed if they were deported to the United States and held in a so-called "Supermax" prison. In April this year European judges ruled that the extraditions should go ahead and last night they dismissed an appeal to take their case to the Grand Chamber.

In a statement released last night, the Home Office said it welcomed the decision from the European Court of Human Rights - an institution which has previously been criticised by Prime Minister David Cameron

"We will work to ensure that the individuals are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible," a spokesman said.

Ahmed's family released a statement last night urging the Home Secretary Theresa May to bring a prosecution in the UK if there is evidence.

"There is enormous public interest in Babar being prosecuted in the UK, as reflected by the fact that almost 150,000 members of the British public signed a Government e-petition to this effect last year," the statement read.

In a final twist Alan Watkin, a Newcastle based businessman, has hinted that he might be willing to bring a private prosecution in the British courts against Ahmed and Ahsan. If the courts accepted such a prosecution it is likely that it could delay any extradition.

"I don't know whether these men are totally innocent or as guilty as hell - that's for a court to determine with the benefit of all the evidence," Mr Watkin said. "But as Britons living and working here, having potentially committed serious crimes here, there is no question they should not be tried here. The public interest demands it.

"We do not need to outsource our criminal justice system to America."

The five men set to be extradited

Abu Hamza, 54

Unlike the five others wanted by the US, Hamza has been convicted in the UK courts and was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 2006 for soliciting murder and inciting hatred. His inflammatory preaching outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque made him for many the face of Islamic extremism in Britain. The Americans want to extradite him on charges of organising hostage taking in Yemen which led to the deaths of four people. He is also wanted for allegedly seeking to set up a terror-training camp in Oregon.

Babar Ahmad, 38

First arrested in 2003, no charges have been filed against Ahmad by British prosecutors, but the US wants to extradite him for allegedly running a pro-Taliban website and receiving classified information about the US Navy Fifth Fleet and timings for its passage through the Persian Gulf. He recently told the BBC that his prosecution had been "outsourced" to the US because there was not enough evidence against him. In 2009, he was awarded £60,000 compensation for the violent manner of his arrest by counter-terrorism officers.

Syed Talha Ahsan, 33

Described by his brother as a "quiet, bookish and intelligent" person, Ahsan has been pursued by the same US prosecutors who wish to see Babar Ahmad extradited. No charges have been brought against him by the UK. The American authorities allege he played a role in obtaining the information about US ships from a former US serviceman. Ahsan’s family say he has Asperger syndrome and that he should be tried in Britain if any crime was committed.

Adel Abdul Bary, 52

Alongside Fawwaz, Egyptian-born Bary is wanted by the US for his alleged involvement in the American-embassy bombings in East Africa. According to the indictment, Bary regularly communicated with al-Qa'ida's deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and helped to publicise statements claiming responsibility after the bombings. He was sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt for an alleged plot to blow up a market.

Khalid al-Fawwaz, 50

Saudi-born Fawwaz ran Osama bin Laden's London-based media operation until he was arrested in 1998 after al-Qa'ida's bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. US prosecutors have wanted him extradited ever since, making him the longest-serving prisoner without charge in Britain today. He is also said to have fought alongside Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and the former al-Qai’da leader is claimed to have called him about 200 times between 1996 and 1998.