The United States today unveiled a raft of conspiracy charges against a radical Islamic cleric in London who was arrested this morning by British police in response to a U.S. extradition request.
Abu Hamza Masri, 47, an Egyptian-born resident of Britain who lost both hands and an eye in Afghanistan in the 1980s, is wanted by the United States to answer an 11-count indictment that was unsealed in New York today.
Attorney General John D. Ashcroft said Abu Hamza, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, is charged with offenses that took place between 1998 and 2001 and that allegedly involved a deadly hostage-taking in Yemen, attempts to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and aid to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The hostage-taking charge carries a maximum penalty of death or life imprisonment, and the other charges carry penalties adding up to 100 years in prison, Ashcroft said.
"We are actively seeking Hamza's extradition to face justice in our courts," Ashcroft said in announcing the indictment in New York. "As today's arrest makes clear, the Department of Justice is bringing the full weight of the criminal law against those who support the activities of terrorists. . . . We will not stop until the war on terrorism is won."
Abu Hamza, a former nightclub bouncer in London who became a fiery Islamic preacher, has expressed admiration for Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda terrorist network, but has denied any formal links to al Qaeda or involvement in violence.
He was arrested early today by British police, who also searched his home in west London.
The British government has accused Abu Hamza of providing "advice and support" to al Qaeda and the Islamic Army of Aden, an organization that claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing in 2000 that damaged the USS Cole in a Yemeni port, killing 17 American sailors. He has been banned from preaching at a London mosque because of his sermons' extremist political content, but the British government has indicated it did not have enough evidence to lodge criminal charges against him or to meet a previous extradition request from the Yemeni government.
Abu Hamza came to London in 1979 to study civil engineering and gained British citizenship after marrying a British woman in 1984. After being injured while fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan, he returned to Britain and became known for his radical sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque. The mosque attracted militant Muslims, including Zacarias Moussaoui, who is being tried in U.S. federal court in Virginia on terrorism-related charges, and Richard C. Reid, the British "shoe bomber" who was jailed in the United States after trying unsuccessfully to blow up an American Airlines plane with explosives hidden in his shoes.
The British government revoked Abu Hamza's citizenship in April 2003 and has sought to deport him, but he appealed the ruling and has been waging a prolonged battle against it in a British immigration court.
The charges handed down against Abu Hamza by a federal grand jury in New York include conspiracy to take hostages and hostage-taking in connection with an attack in Yemen in 1998 that resulted in the death of four hostages, three of them British and one an Australian. Ashcroft said the indictment alleges that Abu Hamza provided a satellite telephone to the leader of the Islamic Army of Aden and received three calls at his home from that phone.
Ashcroft said the indictment charges that Abu Hamza was called from the satellite phone a day before the Islamic group took 16 tourists hostage, including two Americans. When Yemeni forces attempted to rescue the hostages, the indictment alleges, Abu Hamza's co-conspirators used the hostages as human shields. As a result, four hostages were killed and several others wounded, Ashcroft said.
In 1999, Abu Hamza allegedly conspired with and provided support for a militant group that sought to set up a "training camp for violent jihad" in Oregon, Ashcroft said.
Abu Hamza is also charged with conspiring to supply goods and services to the Taliban from the spring of 2000 to September 2001, Ashcroft said.
The announcement of the indictment came a day after Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III warned that al Qaeda is planning a major new attack on the United States and asked the American public to help track down six men and one woman said to be associated with the terrorist network. Abu Hamza was not among those named on the wanted list yesterday.