LONDON - With his hooked hand and distinctive appearance, radical preacher Abu Hamza is the best-known of the five men who the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday could be extradited to the US.
Hamza’s outspoken pronouncements, high public profile and appearance led some British newspapers to dismiss him as a motor-mouthed cartoon villain, not taken seriously by the majority of British Muslims.
But one high-ranking officer in London’s Metropolitan Police, speaking on condition of anonymity in 2006, said it was a “mistake” to regard him as a “buffoon”.
Even if he wasn’t “a leader of the global jihad movement”, he had significant influence over his followers, the officer explained.
In 2004, Hamza was arrested on a US extradition warrant, which claimed he had tried to set up the camp in Oregon between 1998 and 2000.
But the same year, he was also charged with terrorism offences in Britain, including incitement to murder.
In 2006, he was jailed for seven years after being found guilty on 11 of the 15 terrorism charges in Britain.
Following the trial, Scotland Yard released for the first time photographs of items seized from the Finsbury Park mosque in January 2003 as part of a separate inquiry into a plot to use ricin and other poisons in Britain.
Items found included CS spray, a stun gun, three blank firing pistols, a dummy gun, a military camouflage suit to protect against nuclear, biological or chemical attacks and a gas mask.
Since he was jailed, Hamza has launched a succession of legal challenges against the moves to extradite him to the United States.
In February 2010, authorities seized his house in Greenford, west London, to pay off his legal bills, even though Hamza insisted it did not belong to him.
The legal battle took a potentially decisive step on Tuesday when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hamza and four other men could be extradited to the US.
Judges ruled that their human rights would not be violated by the ‘supermax’ prison in Colorado where they will be sent.
They have three months to appeal, but their appeals are believed to be unlikely to succeed.