NEW YORK — An extremist Egyptian-born preacher entered a U.S. courtroom Saturday for the first time to face multiple terrorism charges, complaining that his prosthetic hooks, medication and special shoes had been taken away from him. The preacher was one of five terror defendants that Britain extradited overnight to the U.S.
Abu Hamza al-Masri was surrounded by marshals in a Manhattan courtroom as he faced charges he conspired with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and helped abduct 16 hostages,
two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
The white-haired Al-Masri, 54, indicted under the name Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, exposed the stumps of both his arms through his short-sleeved prison shirt. His court-appointed lawyer Sabrina Shroff asked that he have his prosthetics immediately returned “so he can use his arms.”
In the 1990s, al-Masri turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque into a recruiting and training center for extremist Islamists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
Al-Masri was jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges. The four others extradited with him are accused of U.S. embassy bombings in Africa and with helping terror operations in Afghanistan and Chechnya. The men, who could all face life in prison, have been battling extradition for between eight to 14 years.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the extraditions “a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.”
“As is charged, these are men who were at the nerve centers of al-Qaida’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.”
In New York’s federal court, Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary entered not guilty pleas to charges that they participated in the 1998 bombings of embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans.
In New Haven, Conn., Syed Talha Ahsan, 33, and Babar Ahmad, 38, entered not guilty pleas to charges that they provided terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya with cash, recruits and equipment.
Al-Masri entered no plea.
The overnight trip to the United States came after a multiyear extradition fight that ended Friday, when Britain’s High Court ruled that the men had no more grounds for appeal.
“I’m absolutely delighted that Abu Hamza (al-Masri) is now out of this country,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. “Like the rest of the public, I’m sick to the back teeth of people who come here, threaten our country, who stay at vast expense to the taxpayer and we can’t get rid of them.”
“I’m delighted on this occasion we’ve managed to send this person off to a country where he will face justice,” he added.
Al-Masri has been in a British jail since 2004 on charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims.
On the other hand, some British lawyers and lawmakers have expressed concerns because Britain agreed to extradite Ahmad, a London computer expert, even though his alleged crimes were committed in Britain; British courts declined to prosecute him for lack of evidence. Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of running websites to support Afghanistan’s ousted Taliban regime, Chechen rebels and associated terrorist groups.