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Terror Ruling Favors the U.S.

A British judge says a man suspected of plotting to set up an Oregon training camp can be extradited.

January 06, 2006|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — A British man accused of playing a role in a 1999 plan to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., may be extradited to the United States, a judge ruled Thursday.

Magistrate's Court Judge Timothy Workman rejected arguments raised by attorneys for Haroon Rashid Aswat that the U.S. might declare the suspect an "enemy combatant" and send him to its prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to face a military tribunal.

Aswat's lawyers said they would immediately appeal the ruling to the High Court.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has two months during which he may order the extradition.

Workman told Aswat that a trial could be "properly and fairly conducted" in the United States without breaching his rights. Aswat's lawyers had cited the treatment of inmates at Guantanamo as their chief argument that he could not expect justice from U.S. authorities. They argued that Aswat might well end up in solitary confinement, cut off from friends, relatives and lawyers.

However, the U.S. government pledged in a note to the court that Aswat, who has been named in a federal indictment, would be tried in regular U.S. federal courts, not by a military tribunal as planned for Guantanamo inmates deemed enemy combatants.

Aswat, 31, a Briton of Indian descent, was a follower of cleric Abu Hamza al Masri, a fiery leader of Finsbury Park Mosque in North London.

Masri also is jailed in Britain and fighting extradition to the U.S.

U.S. authorities say Aswat attended Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and once boasted in the United States of being a "hit man" for Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. maintains that Aswat was one of two men Masri sent in 1999 to look into the possibility of setting up a base in Bly, where American Muslims would be recruited and trained for terrorism.

An American, Earnest James Ujaama of Seattle, has pleaded guilty and received a reduced sentence in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors.

After the July 7 suicide bombings in London that killed 52 people on three underground trains and a bus, British investigators launched a worldwide hunt for Aswat, believing he might have been in contact with one or more of the bombers.

Authorities found him in Lusaka, Zambia. Zambian officials agreed to extradite him to Britain, but British investigators apparently decided not to pursue charges.

The British were interested in Aswat because a South African cellphone linked to him had received up to 20 calls from one or more of the London bombers, according to investigative sources. However, it was unclear whether Aswat possessed the phone at the time.

Aswat, who grew up in the same area of northern England as three of the bombers, had been traveling for a number of years and most recently lived in South Africa. It is unclear when he left Britain.

A prominent British human rights lawyer, Gareth Pierce, told reporters outside the Bow Street Magistrate's Court that she considered the U.S. charges against Aswat "nonsense."

Pierce said U.S. prosecutors had manipulated and threatened Ujaama into implicating Aswat.

Aside from Masri and Aswat, U.S. officials have accused a third man, Oussama Kassir, in the alleged plot, never carried out, to create the terrorist camp. A Lebanese-born Swedish citizen, Kassir, 39, was arrested last month at Prague's international airport.

According to court documents, the alleged conspirators had discussed plans to stockpile weapons and ammunition. One alleged fax described the rural Oregon setting as "just like Afghanistan."

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