Radical Islamist Abu Hamza al-Masri presented in U.S. court
NEW YORK (CNN) — After losing a lengthy legal battle to avoid extradition to the United States, Egyptian-born cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri confronted a host of terror charges Saturday when he was presented before a federal judge in Manhattan.
The one-eyed radical preacher faces 11 terrorism-related charges and is one of five men who departed England late Friday, hours after the High Court in London ruled the men could be extradited “immediately.”
Amid high security, authorities temporarily removed al-Masri’s prothstetic limbs, devices he uses after apparently sustaining injuries in Afghanistan.
Two planes carrying the men left the British Air Force base Mildenhall so they could face trial in the United States, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.
Al-Masri will be arraigned Tuesday morning, officials said.
Separately, Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary pleaded not guilty before a judge Saturday.
The trio are being held at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan, a federal law enforcement source told CNN.
Two others, Babar Ahmad and Talha Ahsan, clad in green and yellow prison jumpsuits, also pleaded not guilty Saturday before a judge in New Haven, Connecticut, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office there.
“The extraditions of Abu Hamza, Bary and al-Fawwaz are a major milestone in our effort to see these alleged high-level terrorists face American justice,” said FBI New York acting assistant director-in-charge Mary Galligan. “When an indictment alleges the murderous intent of international terrorists, the government will not waver in its determination to achieve justice, no matter how long it takes.”
The charges against al-Masri include conspiracy in connection with a 1998 kidnapping of 16 Westerners in Yemen, and conspiring with others to establish an Islamic jihad training camp in rural Oregon in 1999. He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
The cases of Ahmad and Ahsan are both linked to a website called azzam.com, which U.S. prosecutors say was run by the two men to support terrorism around the world.
Meanwhile, al-Fawwaz and Bary are accused of being al Qaeda associates of Osama bin Laden in London during the 1990s.
Al-Masri is one of the highest-profile radical Islamic figures in Britain, where he was already sentenced to seven years for inciting racial hatred at his north London mosque and other terrorism-related charges.
Born in Egypt in 1958, he traveled to Britain to study before gaining citizenship through marriage in the 1980s.
A one-time nightclub bouncer in London’s Soho district, al-Masri — also known as Mustafa Kamal Mustafa — has said he lost both hands and one eye while fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He often wears a hook in place of one hand.
In 1997, al-Masri became the imam of a north London mosque, where his hate-filled speeches attacking the West began to attract national attention and followers, including Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” who attempted to blow up a Miami-bound passenger airplane three months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Al-Masri has called the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center “a towering day in history” and described bin Laden as “a good guy and a hero.”
He also described the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003 as “punishment from Allah” because the astronauts were Christian, Hindu and Jewish.
Lawyers for al-Masri told the British court their client suffers from deteriorating mental health and was unfit to plead.
CNN’s Raelyn Johnson, Jonathan Wald, Andrew Carey and Dan Rivers contributed to this report.
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