U.S. officials are seeking the extradition of a radical Muslim cleric who was arrested Thursday by British police. The cleric, Abu Hamza al-Masri, was indicted last month by the U.S. government on charges of aiding and conspiring in terrorist activities.
U.S. officials say Abu Hamza al-Masri provided material support to al-Qaida and the Taleban.
Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the charges contained in an 11-count indictment, which was issued by a federal grand jury in New York last month.
"These charges are related to Hamza's alleged attempts in late 1999 and early 2000 to set up a training camp for violent jihad in Bly, Oregon, here in the United States," he said. "Hamza is also charged with providing material support to al-Qaida for facilitating violent jihad in Afghanistan, as well as conspiracy to supply goods and services to the Taleban."
The 47-year-old, Egyptian-born cleric is a former imam at London's Finsbury Park mosque, which has been linked to high-profile extremists, including Zacarias Moussaoui, the alleged 20th hijacker of the 9/11 attacks and Richard Reid, who attempted to ignite an explosive device in his shoe during a flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001.
After British police closed down the Finsbury Park mosque in January of 2003, Abu Hamza al-Masri often preached on London sidewalks, openly supporting Osama bin Laden and the 9/11 attacks on the United States. He runs a group called "Supporters of Shariah," which advocates Islamic law and encourages Muslims to fight in jihad, but he has denied allegations that he recruits terrorists.
The U.S. has charged the cleric with conspiring to take hostages in connection with the abduction of 16 tourists in Yemen in 1998. Four of those hostages died.
If convicted on the hostage-taking charges, he could face the death penalty or life in prison. The other charges carry a maximum sentence of 100 years in prison.
Mr. Ashcroft said U.S. authorities are actively seeking the cleric's extradition so he can face the charges in a U.S. court.
"This war against terrorism is being fought on many fronts," he added. "It is a war where innocent lives are endangered not only by the terrorist who carries the bomb, but by those who recruit and equip the terrorists. As today's arrest makes clear, the Department of Justice is bringing the full weight of criminal law against those who support the activities of terrorists."
Mr. Ashcroft said the New York City police department helped with the federal investigation that led to the al-Masri arrest. The alleged terrorist obtained British citizenship after marrying a British woman several years ago and has been fighting deportation. He is also wanted by Yemen.