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A nation held captive

Britain can now deport Abu Hamza to the US to stand trial. This is good news for a nation which spends millions of pounds on the upkeep of terrorists like him. Farrukh Dhondy writes.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2012 21:50 IST

Abu Hamza who has set himself up in Britain as one of the most vociferous People of the Book is universally known here as a person of the Hook. Hamza, who has been in a British jail for the last eight years, has a missing eye and an amputated right hand which has been replaced by a hook. He has been convicted of inciting racial hatred and murder from a platform as an Islamist preacher in Finsbury Park.

The British government has just won a case in the European Union’s (EU) Court of human rights in Strasbourg, allowing it to deport Hamza and four other people to stand trial on terrorist charges in America. Three of the five are British citizens, the other two are Egyptian nationals but are in Britain as political asylum seekers. One of the British citizens, Babar Ahmed, has been held in a British jail for nearly eight years without being openly tried or convicted in a British court.

All of these prisoners can now be handed over to the American authorities to stand trial in the US.

Hamza is accused in America of conspiracy to kidnap 16 hostages in Yemen in 1998, of promoting violent jihad in Afghanistan in 2001 and conspiring to set up a ‘jihad training camp’ in Oregon, US. The others are variously accused of laundering money for the Taliban, conspiring to commit terrorist offences abroad and in America and two of them are accused of participating in bomb attacks on US embassies in Africa.

Needless to say, if they are convicted they face life terms or jail sentences which can be up to or longer than 30 years at Uncle Sam’s discretion. The lawyer fighting their extradition to the US argued that the accused, if convicted in the States could face prison terms and conditions which would expose them to “torture and to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. The human rights judges ruled that this was not so, concluding that a conviction and sentence in the US, notwithstanding the possibility of 23 hours a day solitary confinement doesn’t amount to torture or a violation of their human rights.

The reaction of British politicians and public is very much in favour of the extradition. Two months ago, another terrorist, one Abu Qatada, was convicted of similar terrorist conspiracy and advocating racial hatred and murder charges. Qatada is a Jordanian citizen who is in Britain on an asylum ticket. He is wanted in Jordan for several terrorism-related crimes but thus far cannot be deported to that country under EU Human Rights laws, as the EU court ruled that he might be tried using evidence that had been obtained from others under torture.

The ruling caused wide dismay in Britain. The general opinion, and one with which common sense must agree, was that Britain was being taken for a very long ride by terrorist-wallahs who turn up from other countries, seek political asylum, live off the British State, getting it to pay for them and their families to live fairly comfortable lives for no work and then go around plotting terror and preaching hatred against the British population and State. A regular and shameless namak haram game.

British home secretary Theresa May has now sought assurances from the Jordanian government that if Qatada is extradited he will be given a fair trial and no evidence obtained through torture will be presented against him. She intends to present this to the Strasbourg Court and appeal again for sending him back to his home country, thus saving the (literally) millions of pounds the British taxpayer has paid for Qatada’s upkeep, security and prosecution.

Other European countries have no such human rights qualms. France regularly deports people who have been found to advocate, plan or perpetrate terror. The French State openly defies Strasbourg and on the last occasion was fined £12,000 for defying its ruling and sending a terrorist back to Algeria whence he came — much cheaper than respecting the human rights of someone like Qatada and spending £3 million doing it.

Britain has, correctly, taken the view that staying this side of the law, however costly, is a more moral position and so there is understandable jubilation at the verdict to allow the deportation of Hamza and the other four. There should only be two cheers for the decision because one of the potential deportees, Babar Ahmad, a 37-year-old computer operator, has been held without trial for eight years and should, as a British citizen, stand trial for any alleged offences he may have committed here. If there are no such offences, then seven years is an inhuman and cruel period for which to be detained while extradition proceedings are put in place.

Not quite apart from being an advocate of terror, Abu Hamza is a liar. Part of his reputation among the impressionable or budding jihadists who listened to his diatribes at the Finsbury Park mosque or conspired with him to commit acts of terror was that he was a hero of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan and lost a hand an eye doing it.

This claim is manifestly untrue, as a filmmaker and TV producer friend of mine has an interview with Hamza on tape in which he has both fully functional hands and eyes. The interview was recorded nearly two years after the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Hamza, one may conclude, blew up his own hand and eye in Pakistan playing or plotting with explosives and had both of them patched up by the medical expertise available there.

(Farrukh Dhondy is an author, screenplay writer and columnist based in London)

The views expressed by the author are personal