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Abu Hamza extradition ruling marks end of era for radical cleric

By Nick Thompson, CNN
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Court rules Abu Hamza can be extradited to U.S. over terror charges
  • Hamza preached at London mosque attended by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid
  • Egyptian-born cleric convicted, jailed on terror charges in Britain in 2006
  • Hamza called 9/11 attacks in New York "a towering day in history"

London (CNN) -- He once described Britain as a "toilet" -- now, radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is to be flushed out of the UK legal system and into a potential life sentence in America, the end of an era for perhaps London's most famous anti-Western preacher.

After nearly a decade of legal battles, a European court has ruled that the one-eyed, hook-handed al-Masri, who was convicted in a British court and jailed in 2006 for a variety of terror-related crimes, can be extradited to face terror charges in the U.S.

More: Cleric faces possible life sentence in America

Britain's legal victory marks the end of a protracted battle to send al-Masri abroad that so exasperated officials that even Queen Elizabeth reportedly spoke to a UK home secretary about why arresting the cleric was proving so difficult, according to the BBC.

More: BBC apologizes to queen over Hamza revelation

Born in Egypt in 1958, al-Masri travelled to Britain -- which he described in his 2006 trial as "like the inside of a toilet" -- to study, before gaining citizenship through marriage in the 1980s.

A one-time nightclub bouncer in London's Soho district, al-Masri -- also known as Mustafa Kamal Mustafa -- has said he lost both hands and one eye while fighting against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He often wore a hook in place of one hand.

In 1997, al-Masri became the imam of a north London mosque, where his hate-filled speeches attacking the West began to attract national attention and followers, including Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber" who attempted to blow up a Miami-bound passenger airplane three months after the September 11 terrorist attack in 2001.

Al-Masri has called the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center "a towering day in history" and described former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "a good guy and a hero."

He also described the Columbia space shuttle disaster in 2003 as "punishment from Allah" because the astronauts were Christian, Hindu and Jewish.

Both non-Muslims and Muslims have condemned his preachings. One former trustee of the London mosque where al-Masri preached told CNN in 2006: "Abu Hamza's views have damaged the inter-community relationships and damaged the reputation of the Muslim community as extremist."

Police raided the mosque in 2003 and, after being banned for preaching there, al-Masri resorted to leading Friday prayers on the street outside the mosque.

Al-Masri previously denied wrongdoing, saying, "They have no evidence against me whatsoever apart from me trying basically to open the people's eyes about certain principles."

The European court's decision to allow Britain to extradite the cleric to the U.S. stems from its assessment that al-Masri -- and several other terror suspects the ruling affects -- would not get "ill treatment" in super-maximum security prisons if extradited to the U.S. and convicted in American courts.

Both U.S. and British officials applauded the court's decision -- and Britain has pledged to hand over al-Masri to the Americans "as quickly as possible."

Information from CNN Wires and Paula Hancocks was used in this report.

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