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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Britain Charges Muslim Cleric Sought by U.S.

LONDON, Oct. 19 - Abu Hamza al-Masri, a radical Muslim cleric who faces extradition to the United States, was charged by the British police on Tuesday with encouraging followers to murder Jews and other non-Muslims. (He may be "radical", but only Jews are "extremists." -EoZ)

Appearing before a magistrates' court at Belmarsh Prison here, Mr. Masri was charged with 16 offenses in all. The other charges included inciting racial hatred, possessing threatening or incendiary sound and video recordings and having a terrorist document in his possession on the day he was arrested.

The charge states that the document 'contained information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.'

Mr. Masri, who arrived in Britain in 1979, has been in a high security jail in Britain since May, when he was arrested by the British antiterrorism police on a United States extradition warrant. He faces 11 charges in the United States, including hostage taking and providing material support to Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

The British police began pursuing their own charges against Mr. Masri during the summer. Now the British case, one of the highest-profile terrorism cases here, takes precedence, and the American extradition request will be put on hold until after Mr. Masri's trial in Britain. One potential problem with the extradition is that British law bars extradition where the death penalty could be imposed.

The former imam of the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, Mr. Masri, 46, is considered a radical preacher and was known for delivering fiery speeches to his followers. Last year, the Egyptian-born cleric was stripped of his British citizenship and barred from preaching at the mosque. But he continued to preach on the road just outside the mosque.

Both Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being the 20th hijacker in the Sept. 11 attacks, reportedly attended that mosque before their arrests. Mr. Reid is in prison in the United States, and Mr. Moussaoui faces trial there. Antiterrorism officials have described the mosque as a focus of terrorist planning.

Mr. Masri, who lost an eye and a hand while fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980's, appeared in court surrounded by several police officers.

He is one of several prominent Muslim clerics who have been accused of supporting terrorism, including Abu Qatada, who is said to have been the spiritual counselor of Mohamed Atta, the man who led the Sept. 11 plot. Mr. Qatada remains in prison here without charges.