Court upholds UK suspects' extradition to U.S.

STRASBOURG, France Tue Apr 10, 2012 8:08am EDT

Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri leads prayers outside the North London Central Mosque in the Finsbury Park area of London in this January 24, 2003 file photograph. REUTERS/Toby Melville/Files

Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri leads prayers outside the North London Central Mosque in the Finsbury Park area of London in this January 24, 2003 file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Toby Melville/Files

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STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Britain can send five suspects to the United States to face terrorism charges, European judges ruled on Tuesday, a judgment that may ease domestic pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to take a tougher line on the extradition of terror suspects.

The most high-profile suspect covered by the European Court of Human Rights ruling is Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, a one-eyed radical with hooks for hands who applauded the September 11, 2001 hijacked airliner attacks on the United States.

The Egyptian-born Hamza - real name Mustafa Kamal Mustafa - is accused by the United States of trying to set up an al Qaeda training camp in its Pacific coast state of Oregon. He also faces charges of involvement in plotting the taking of 16 Western hostages in Yemen in 1998.

The Strasbourg court decided that sending the men to high-security U.S. prisons would be lawful and that they would not receive "inhuman and degrading treatment".

It gave the suspects three months to appeal against the ruling to a panel of five European judges.

Successive British governments have struggled with how to deal with suspects who they cannot deport and are loath to put on trial but Tuesday's ruling will come as a relief for Cameron.

The other men in the latest case are Babar Ahmad, Haroon Rashid Aswat, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz. The court adjourned its ruling on Aswat, who suffers from schizophrenia, pending reports about his mental health.

Lawyers for the suspects had argued their human rights could be breached if they were convicted in the United States. They argued that the length of jail terms they faced and conditions in U.S. prisons would make their extradition unlawful.

However, seven judges at the European court upheld earlier decisions made by the British courts.

"The court did not consider that these sentences were grossly disproportionate or amounted to inhuman or degrading treatment," the court said in a statement. "The court held that conditions at ADX (a U.S. high security prison in Florence, Colorado) would not amount to ill-treatment."

The father of Babar Ahmad said he was disappointed by the decision and the family planned an appeal. "There should be a public inquiry and Babar should be tried in this country," he said in a statement.

British Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May said, without giving details, that British state prosecutors and police in London had decided not to charge Ahmad.

Previous obstacles to UK trials for suspects have been the use of evidence obtained through torture and worries about exposing details of the intelligence services.

Al Qaeda has warned Britain against handing over another suspect, radical cleric Abu Qatada, to Jordan after his release from prison earlier this year. [ID:nL6E8FA03E] It said such a move would open "the door of evil" for Britain.

To the fury of many members of Cameron's Conservative party, Britain was forced to free Abu Qatada from prison in February to live under virtual house arrest after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his detention without trial was unlawful.

Cameron has been under political pressure since the freeing of Abu Qatada to take a steelier line over the intervention of European courts on extraditions of terror suspects.

Cameron said in a statement after Tuesday's ruling: "I'm very pleased with this news. It's quite right that we have a proper legal process although sometimes you can be frustrated by how long this takes."

(Writing by Peter Griffiths; Editing by)

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