In the Media

Abu Hamza: civil engineer who turned hate preacher against West

PUBLISHED October 5, 2012

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza has finally lost his eight-year battle against extradition and will face a series of terror charges in the United States.

Hamza, 54, who is missing his right hand and an eye, has celebrated the September 11 terror attacks, preached jihad to a young congregation, and landed the British taxpayer with a bill running into millions of pounds for detention and legal costs.

But Hamza will now be handed over to US authorities to face 11 counts of criminal conduct related to the taking of 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in Bly, Oregon, between June 2000 and December 2001.

The Muslim cleric once appeared to embrace Western society.

He worked as a bouncer in a Soho nightclub and had a reputation for socialising and heavy drinking when he first came to Britain from Egypt 30 years ago.

Born in Alexandria, he studied civil engineering and in 1984 married a British woman, Valerie Fleming. But throughout the 1980s he slowly began to turn towards a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran.

In 1990 he divorced his wife and returned to Egypt where he reinvented himself as a Muslim "holy man" or sheikh. He travelled to Pakistan and then on to Afghanistan which was at the time gripped by civil war as differing factions fought to fill the power vacuum left by the retreat of Russian troops.

It is unclear if he fought there but when he returned to the UK with his British passport in the early 1990s he was missing his right hand and an eye. He claims he lost the hand fighting jihad in Afghanistan.

In 1996 he re-emerged at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London preaching jihad to a young congregation.

Then in January 1999 three British tourists were killed in Yemen, drawing public attention to the civil war between fundamentalists and the secular government there, which accused Abu Hamza of using his mosque to recruit Islamic warriors to the fundamentalist cause.

He was alleged to have been the leader of a cell called Supporters of Sharia and was accused of sending his son, Mustafa Kamel, to Yemen where he and five other British Muslims were convicted on terrorist charges. Yemen said that it wanted him extradited.

But Hamza continued to court controversy. Following the September 11 attacks in the US, he said: "Many people will be happy, jumping up and down at this moment."

In February 2006 Hamza was jailed in the UK for seven years for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred, and it has been suggested that it was racial abuse of his son that turned him into a critic of Western life.

From his maximum-security prison cells at Belmarsh in south east London and Long Lartin in Worcestershire, he has fought extradition for years, claiming the prospect of solitary confinement in one of the US's "supermax" high-security jails and sentences of life imprisonment without parole would breach a European ban on "torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

But human rights judges ruled in April this year that there would be no violation of the European Human Rights Convention if the UK extradited him to the US to face a range of terrorist charges.

After his bid to appeal against the decision in the court's Grand Chamber was rejected by a panel of judges last month, the Home Office said it wanted to hand over Hamza to the US authorities as quickly as possible.

Yet another appeal, this time back at the High Court in London, led to Britain's most senior judge, Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, declaring that such delays in cases like this were a "source of real fury".

The extradition was again put on hold, with Hamza's legal team claiming a brain scan was needed to establish whether he was unfit to plead because of degenerative problems.

But Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen's Bench Division, suggested in the course of legal argument that if there was a risk of a degenerative condition, "the sooner he is put on trial the better - I don't conceivably see how a delay can conceivably be in the interests of justice".

Home Secretary Theresa May is now entitled to "move instantly" and hand Hamza over to the US.