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Radical Cleric Arrested in London on Terrorism Charges

BY Admin  May 27, 2004 at 1:00 PM EST

An 11-count indictment filed by U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan federal court charges al-Masri with hostage-taking and conspiracy in connection with a December 1998 attack in Yemen that resulted in the death of four hostages.

He is also charged with aiding terrorists, including members of al-Qaida, when he allegedly set up a camp for “violent jihad” in Bly, Ore., in late 1999 and early 2000, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said when announcing the arrest.

The maximum sentence for hostage-taking is the death penalty or life imprisonment, and the other charges bring a penalty of up to 100 years in prison, Ashcroft said.

“Those who support our terrorist enemies anywhere in the world must know that we will not rest until the threat they pose is eradicated,” he said.

Early Thursday, police closed off streets in a suburban area of west London where the Egyptian-born al-Masri, whose real name is Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, lived with his family, The New York Times reported.

He appeared Thursday afternoon before a magistrate at the high-security Belmarsh prison.

Al-Masri was the imam at the Finsbury Park Mosque, which has been linked to Moussaoui and Reid and was shut down in January 2003 after a police anti-terrorism raid, according to the Associated Press.

U.S. authorities are seeking the cleric’s extradition, but Britain, like other European Union countries, will not extradite suspects who could face the death penalty. Ashcroft said extradition requests involving capital crimes should be dealt with on a “case-by-case” basis.

In the past, the United States has dropped the death penalty to expedite a prosecution.

Al-Masri, who lost an eye and both hands in what he has described as mine-clearing operations while fighting the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan, also faces extradition efforts from Yemen, which has accused him of fomenting terrorism in 1998.

He was stripped of his British nationality a year ago on allegations he supported terrorism, Reuters reported. In April, he won nine more months to appeal the decision. He has denied any formal links to the al-Qaida network.

The arrest came a day after Ashcroft warned of increased “chatter” detected from terrorist groups that indicated an attack might occur in the United States this summer. He put the public on alert for seven individuals with suspected ties to al-Qaida, not including al-Masri.