THE European Court of Human Rights has cleared the way for the extradition to the US of five terrorism suspects, including the Islamist preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, after legal battles dating to 2004.
The decision was immediately welcomed by British Home Secretary Theresa May, who will be keen to avoid the confusion that delayed the removal of another Islamist preacher, Abu Qatada, to Jordan earlier this year. The five suspects are expected to be on a plane within weeks.
Abu Hamza, 54, is wanted by the US in connection with plans to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, as well as allegations that he provided material support to the Taliban.
He is also wanted in connection with allegations that he was involved in hostage-taking in Yemen in 1998.
Abu Hamza, who has lost one eye and a hand, possibly fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan, was first arrested in London at the request of the US in 2004. But his extradition was halted after he was jailed for incitement offences relating to his sermons at the Finsbury Park mosque in London.
He is being held in the maximum-security Belmarsh jail in south-east London.
A panel of five human rights judges sitting in Strasbourg rejected appeals to the court's grand chamber from the five suspects and agreed with an earlier ruling that their human rights would not be violated by the prospect of life sentences and solitary confinement in an American ''supermax'' prison.
All the suspects said they would face inhumane and degrading treatment if they were extradited to the US.
The other four suspects are Babar Ahmad, 37, who was first detained in 2004 and is one of the longest-held suspects in detention in Britain without facing trial, Syed Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled al-Fawwaz. Abdul Bary and Fawwaz are accused of being key aides to Osama bin Laden in London.
Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of being involved in a website that encouraged terrorism and which, while operated from London, was hosted in the US.
The family of Ahmad called for him to be prosecuted in Britain. They said the judges' decision was largely irrelevant as the matter would never have got to this stage had the British police done their job almost nine years ago and provided the material seized from Babar's home to the Crown Prosecution Service, rather than secretly passing it to their US counterparts.
The family's statement said: ''The CPS is now in possession of all that material which forms the basis of the US indictment and should immediately prosecute Babar for conduct allegedly committed in the UK.''
A British businessman, Karl Watkin, began his own private prosecution of Ahmad in Britain earlier this month, saying he objected to outsourcing Britain's criminal justice system to the US.
Abdul Bary and Fawwaz were indicted - with bin Laden and 20 others - for their alleged involvement in, or support for, the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998. Fawwaz faces more than 269 charges of murder.
■ Lawyers for three men imprisoned by the US military in Afghanistan without trial for nearly a decade are renewing their quest for hearings in US courts. They say new information has emerged that undermines an appeals court ruling against them two years ago.
That information includes a letter by Afghan President Hamid Karzai's chief of staff saying the Afghan government does not want custody of the detainees and that it ''favours these individuals having access to a fair judicial process, and adjudication of their case by a competent court''.
The prisoners, two Yemenis and a Tunisian, say they were captured outside Afghanistan and that they are not terrorists. There are believed to be about a dozen such men - non-Afghans captured elsewhere - who have been imprisoned for years by the US military at Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul.
GUARDIAN, NEW YORK TIMES