The United States on Thursday indicted a radical Muslim cleric who was arrested in London in a pre-dawn raid on charges of hostage-taking and providing support to al Qaeda, officials said.
The 11-count indictment filed by U.S. prosecutors in Manhattan federal court charged Abu Hamza al-Masri with hostage taking in connection with an attack in Yemen in December 1998 that resulted in the death of four hostages.
In the United States, a charge of hostage-taking carries the death penalty or life imprisonment, which could complicate any efforts to extradite him from Britain, which has abolished the death penalty. Abu Hamza faces up to 100 years in prison for the other charges.
The indictment, which was returned by a federal grand jury on April 19, also charges Abu Hamza with providing material support to the Islamic militant group al Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked plane attacks on New York and Washington and other attacks around the world.
The indictment said he tried to help al Qaeda establish a training camp in Bly, Oregon, from October 1999 to early 2000.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft at a news conference in New York.
Ashcroft on Wednesday warned of a potential attack on the United States in the next few months and put the public on alert for seven individuals associated with al Qaeda, not including Abu Hamza.
Abu Hamza — a hate figure for British tabloids, who has one eye and a steel hook in place of his right hand after being wounded fighting in Afghanistan — was stripped of his British nationality a year ago on allegations he supported terrorism.
In April, he won nine more months to appeal against the decision. He denies any formal links to al Qaeda.
The cleric preached holy war, openly admired Osama bin Laden and applauded the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people.
His case could lead to a lengthy legal battle over extradition. British officials could not immediately clarify whether the charges in the United States or Britain would take precedence. And Yemen, where the cleric’s son has served prison time on terrorism charges, has also long sought his extradition.
After moving to Britain years ago and working as a doorman at London discos, he went to Afghanistan in the 1980s to help the Mujahideen fight Soviet occupation troops.
He lost both his forearms and an eye to an explosive device. In the 1990s, he returned to the United Kingdom to preach radical Islam in London mosques.
He was shut out of his north London Finsbury Park mosque when it was raided by anti-terrorism police in January 2003 but simply switched to preaching on the street outside.