Terror suspects appear in U.S. courts

New York Times News Service /

NEW YORK — After a protracted battle in the British and European courts, Abu Hamza al-Masri, an incendiary Muslim preacher with links to al-Qaida, and four other terrorism suspects implicated in an array of anti-U.S. terrorist plots, were extradited to the U.S. to face federal charges in Manhattan and New Haven, Conn., on Saturday.

Appearing in U.S. District Court in Manhattan was al-Masri, 54, who lost both hands and an eye in an explosion. Two other defendants in Manhattan, Adel Abdul Bary, 52, and Khalid al-Fawwaz, 50, were arraigned on charges including murder and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction in connection with the 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and in Nairobi, Kenya, in which more than 200 people died. They pleaded not guilty.

In New Haven, Syed Ahsan, 33, and Babar Ahmad, 38, pleaded not guilty to charges that included conspiring to recruit fighters, raise money and gather equipment for terrorists on websites hosted out of Connecticut.

Federal authorities in the U.S. had long been seeking the extradition of al-Masri, an Egyptian-born cleric, for his involvement in a 1998 kidnapping of U.S. citizens in Yemen, supporting the establishment of a terrorist training camp in Bly, in Klamath County, and “facilitating violent jihad in Afghanistan,” according to a statement by the U.S. attorney in Manhattan. If convicted, al-Masri could face life in prison.

Last week, lawyers for al-Masri said he was physically unfit and should stay in Britain, where he has been incarcerated since 2006. On Saturday, a court-appointed lawyer, Sabrina Shroff, asked that the judge order “a full evaluation” of his medical condition, which had yet to be conducted at the time of his appearance.

British and U.S. officials orchestrated the handover of the suspects shortly after a high court rejected a final appeal by the men to stay in the United Kingdom. The men arrived in New York early Saturday, where they will remain in custody pending further court appearances. Al-Masri is to be arraigned on Tuesday.

Manhattan’s U.S. attorney, Preet Bharara, said, “It makes good on a promise to the American people to use every available diplomatic, legal and administrative tool to pursue and prosecute charged terrorists no matter how long it takes.”

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