Abu Hamza still wanted in Yemen [Archives:2004/743/Front Page]
By Peter Willems
Yemen Times Staff
Soon after Abu Hamza Al-Masri was arrested last week in London based on terror charges in the United States, the Yemeni government demanded the extradition of the Muslim cleric to Yemen.
Mohieddine Al-Dabi, Director General of Yemen's Ministry of Interior, said the government is pushing for Abu Hamza to stand trial for his involvement in terrorist crimes in Yemen in 1998.
“We will exert major efforts with the United States to have Abu Hamza Al-Masri turned over to Yemen in case he was handed over by London to Washington,” said Al-Dabi last Saturday, two days after Abu Hamza was arrested.
Abu Hamza is wanted in Yemen on charges of orchestrating terrorist activities while being based in Britain. He is suspected of being involved in the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in December 1998. Four of the hostages were killed during a rescue attempt carried out by the Yemeni army.
An official at the Ministry of Justice told Yemen Times that the Yemeni government has gathered enough evidence to prosecute Abu Hamza.
“Yemen has enough evidence, so the government wants to try him here where he committed terrorist crimes,” said the judicial source. “With this much evidence, Yemen wants to put him on trial.”
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Yemen has been asking the British government for Abu Hamza's extradition for the last three years. Even though the Yemeni government has had a warrant for his arrest since 1999, the requests for his extradition have been denied.
According to British Home Secretary David Blunkett, Britain would not send Abu Hamza to Yemen because he could possibly face the death penalty.
Abu Hamza's son was arrested by Yemeni authorities in 1998 on charges of plotting terror attacks and has served time in prison.
If Abu Hamza, who was born in Egypt as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa but holds a British passport, is extradited to the United States, he will face an 11-count indictment which was filed by a US federal court.
Along with plotting the kidnapping in Yemen, the indictment includes Abu Hamza attempting to put together a terrorist training camp in Oregon in 1999. He is also accused of recruiting at least one man to an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan and providing material support to Al-Qaeda in 1999 and 2000. It is believed that Abu Hamza was a spiritual inspiration to Richard Reid, who attempted to detonate a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami in 2001, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who is being tried in a US federal court on terrorist charges.
“We are actively seeking Hamza's extradition from Great Britain to face justice in our courts on these serious charges,” said US Attorney General John Ashcroft soon after the arrest.
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Blunkett said Britain plans to carry out the extradition process quickly. An extradition treaty between the United States and Britain, which went into effect after the attacks on September 11, 2001, is to make the process for extraditing terror suspects easier.
One obstacle has been Britain's ban on the death penalty and sending suspects to countries that apply capital punishment. Abu Hamza may face the death penalty in the United States if found guilty of being involved in killing hostages. Blunkett has said that the two countries have already agreed that Abu Hamza would not face capital punishment in the United States.
Abu Hamza emmigrated to the United Kingdom in 1979. He went to Afghanistan in the eighties to fight with the Mujahadeen against Soviet troops and lost both of his forearms and an eye while handling an explosive device.
After returning to Britain, he preached at mosques in London and became known for delivering controversial sermons viewed as supporting a radical religious position. In 2003, he was banned from preaching at the Finsbury Park mosque in London after it was raided by anti-terrorist police. A year ago he was stripped of his British nationality on allegations of supporting terrorism, but last April he was given nine more months to appeal against the decision.
Although the United States holds that it has evidence to charge Abu Hamza, Britain claims it did not have enough evidence to take him to court.
“Had we evidence in this country of a crime here, then of course the police and the Attorney General would have taken action,” said Blunkett.
Some Yemenis have expressed anger over the expected extradition to the United States.
“Once again it is the United States that decides what should be done,” said one Yemeni. “The United States still thinks it rules the world and has a police force in every country. Besides, if he committed a crime in Yemen, he should go to court here.”
Abu Hamza is now held in London without bail and an extradition hearing is scheduled for July 23.