British officials on Wednesday ordered the extradition to the United States of Babar Ahmad, a high-profile terrorism suspect who faces U.S. charges of using the Internet to support the al Qaeda network and other Islamic extremists.
Ahmad, a 31-year-old computer engineer, was arrested by British police in August 2004 and is being held in a London-area prison. He would be the first person sent to the United States under a controversial 2003 extradition law that allows certain governments to obtain suspects without providing evidence of guilt, according to Gareth Crossman of Liberty, a British human rights organization.
"This decision should only come as a surprise to those who thought that there was still justice for Muslims in Britain," said a statement bearing Ahmad's name posted on his Web site. His family said it would appeal the decision to the British High Court.
The move by Charles Clarke, Britain's top law enforcement official, was immediately denounced by Muslim leaders. They argued that any trial for Ahmad, a British citizen of Pakistani descent, should be in Britain. Extraditing him would set a precedent that would anger British Muslims and worsen already frayed relations with the government, they said.
"This man has never set foot in the United States; he has lived in Britain his whole life," said Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. "If he has done something wrong, this is where he should be put on trial."
According to a U.S. indictment filed in Connecticut in October 2004, Ahmad used a network of Web sites to solicit donations for rebels in Chechnya and the Taliban militia in Afghanistan. It also alleged that he arranged for training and transportation of Islamic fighters and bought camouflage suits, gas masks and other equipment for them.
U.S. officials claimed jurisdiction because Ahmad allegedly used Internet service providers in Connecticut and Nevada.
A British judge ruled in May that Ahmad could be extradited to the United States, but left the decision to Clarke. A statement issued Wednesday by the Home Office said Clarke had "given full consideration to complex representations that have been made on Mr. Ahmad's behalf but is satisfied that the conditions for his extradition have been met."
Ahmad, his family and his lawyers have argued that, if extradited, he would end up on death row or at the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. officials have pledged not to let that happen. British law forbids extradition of suspects who could face the death penalty.
The 2003 extradition law has been criticized by human rights and civil liberties groups because it lessens the burden of proof on certain countries, including the United States, when they seek extraditions.
Crossman said that rather than providing evidence of guilt, the foreign government must only present their allegations.