A US judge ordered that radical Islamist cleric Abu Hamza, described by the US government as an al-Qaeda mastermind, be kept in detention after a brief court hearing on Saturday.
Hamza and four other terrorism suspects who were extradited overnight from Britain appeared in US court in the latest stage of a trans-Atlantic legal saga. All men except Hamza, who entered no plea, pleaded not guilty.
The one-eyed extremist, whose hook on the stump of his right arm and other prosthetic limbs were removed, did not speak at his hearing in New York, except for a few words muttered to his court-appointed lawyer.
Hamza, 54, faces terrorism charges over a 1998 kidnapping in Yemen, setting up a terrorist training camp in the United States and for “facilitating violent jihad” in Afghanistan. He will be formally charged on Tuesday.
Wearing a navy blue prisoner’s outfit, Hamza kept his head bowed during the hearing before US Magistrate Judge Frank Maas, who summarised the charges before him.
Sabrina Shroff, a lawyer for the cleric, requested he be given special shoes, without which “he will not be able to function in a civilized way” due to foot trouble, and requested medical care on account of his diabetes.
Appearing in the same New York court were Egyptian Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz of Saudi Arabia, 50. They are both charged with conspiring with members of al-Qaeda to kill US nationals and attack US interests abroad.
Bary, 52, is also charged with murder, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction and other offenses in connection with the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Those blasts destroyed the buildings, killing 224 people and injuring thousands more.
Two others, British citizens Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan, appeared before a judge in New Haven, Connecticut. They were ordered held in custody. Another hearing is set for October 15.
Ahmad, 38, and Ahsan, 33, are charged with terrorism-related offenses stemming from their involvement in Azzam Publications in London, which allegedly provided material support to militant Chechen separatists, the Taliban and associated terrorist groups.
They were arrested in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
US officials hailed the extradition of Hamza and the other terrorism suspects as a “watershed moment” in Washington’s battle against al-Qaeda.
“These are men who were at the nerve centres of al-Qaeda’s acts of terror, and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost and families to be shattered,” US Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Abu Hamza rose to prominence after giving fiery sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, but has been jailed in Britain for eight years after being convicted of soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.
His date with American justice, and those of Bary and Fawwaz, “makes good on a promise to the American people to use every available diplomatic, legal and administrative tool to pursue and prosecute charged terrorists no matter how long it takes”, Bharara said.
Abu Hamza failed to convince British judges that his extradition should be blocked in order for medical tests to be carried out over his alleged depression.
The judges said they were “wholly unpersuaded” that he was unfit to face trial, and added that “the sooner he is put on trial, the better”, dismissing arguments that his rights would be breached in US custody.