Oct 6, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
CBS NEWS – NEW YORK Radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri and two other terrorism suspects who fought for years to avoid facing charges in the United States appeared in federal magistrates court in Lower Manhattan to face charges of terrorism, less than 12 hours after being extradited from Britain.
At 1 p.m. Saturday afternoon Khaled al-Fawwaz and Adel Abdul Bary wore blue jail uniforms and sported long gray beards. They were flanked by at least 10 U.S. Marshals.
Al-Fawazz told Magistrate Frank Mass he was “not guilty.” Defense counsel entered the same plea for Abdel Bary.
The defendants will be formally arraigned next Tuesday, when prosecutor Sean Buckley said the government will commence to turn over discovery evidence in a terrorism conspiracy the government has tried twice and won, sending five al Qaeda operatives to life imprisonment.
At 1:40 p.m. Abu Hamza was presented. He walked into court sporting a gray beard and closely-cut gray hair, and wearing a standard navy blue jail uniform. Both of his arms were exposed, showing where his hands had been amputated, he has claimed, after an explosion fighting with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The explosion also cost him vision in one eye.
Abu Hamza’s acting public defender asked Judge Mass to order the Bureau of Prisons to return his prosthetic hands immediately so he could attend to “his daily needs.” Otherwise, federal defender Sabrina Shroff said, “He will not be able to function in a civilized manner.”
His next court appearance, a formal arraignment, is also set for next Tuesday.
None of the defendants challenged their detention, or made a bail application (though Bary’s attorney reserved the right to do so in the future).
However, Lawyers for both al-Fawwaz and Bary note the ailments of their clients and say they’re concerned that they get their medication. Al-Fawazz suffers from high blood pressure and a stomach condition, while Abdel Bary has asthma, their court-appointed attorneys said.
Abu Hamza suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, said his attorney, who requested that he receive a full medical evaluation. She added that due to his disabilities, Abu Hamza would like a dictaphone to prepare his trial defense, as he cannot take notes.
Earlier Saturday, two other men extradited from Britain – Babar Hamad, 38, and Syed Talha Ahsan, 33 – appeared in federal district court in Connecticut, where they pleaded not guilty to charges that they provided terrorists in Afghanistan and Chechnya with cash, recruits and equipment.
Ahmad made efforts to secure GPS devices, Kevlar helmets, night vision goggles, ballistic vests and camouflage uniforms, prosecutors said.
They are detained while they await trial in Connecticut, where an Internet service provider was allegedly used to host a website. Their lawyers declined to comment.
Earlier Saturday, al-Masri was taken to a lockup next to the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan. He faces charges that he conspired with Seattle men to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon and that he helped abduct 16 hostages, two of them American tourists, in Yemen in 1998.
Al-Masri, a one-time nightclub bouncer, will be housed in Manhattan along with Khaled al-Fawwaz, 50, a citizen of Saudi Arabia, and Adel Abdul Bary, 52, an Egyptian citizen, who will face trial on charges that they participated in the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. The attacks killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. They were indicted in a case that also charged Osama bin Laden.
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called the extraditions “a watershed moment in our nation’s efforts to eradicate terrorism.”
He added: “As is charged, these are men who were at the nerve centers of Al Qaeda’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost, and families to be shattered.”
On “CBS This Morning: Saturday,” Bob Orr said the extradition fight has been so protracted because Masri knows, if convicted in the United States, he faces a life sentence.
He said this case is important because it provides the Department of Justice with another opportunity to prove terror prosecutions can be handled successfully in civilian court. Also, Orr said, “He’s been a big recruiter, and successful prosecution on American soil will effectively strike another big blow against al Qaeda.”
In the 1990s, al-Masri turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque into a training ground for extremist Islamists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
Al-Masri is not the first ailing Egyptian-born preacher to be brought to Manhattan for trial. A blind sheik, Omar Abdel-Rahman, is serving a life sentence after he was convicted in 1995 in a plot to assassinate then-Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and in another to blow up New York landmarks, including the United Nations and two tunnels and a bridge linking New Jersey to Manhattan. Abdel-Rahman has numerous health issues, including heart trouble.
In England, lawyers for the 54-year-old al-Masri, who has one eye and hooks in place of hands he claims to have lost fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, said he suffers from depression, chronic sleep deprivation, diabetes and other ailments.
The overnight trip to the United States came after a multi-year extradition fight that ended Friday, when Britain’s High Court ruled that the men had no more grounds for appeal and could be sent to the U.S. immediately. The men have been battling extradition for between eight and 14 years.
“I’m absolutely delighted that Abu Hamza 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 separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims.
While al-Masri has been portrayed in the British media as one of the most dangerous men in the country, the case against Ahmad in Connecticut has raised concerns among legal experts and human rights advocates.
Some lawyers and lawmakers have expressed concerns because Britain agreed to extradite him even though his alleged crimes were committed in Britain and 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…keep reading…