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Radical British Imam Wins Citizenship Appeal

This is an undated photo released in New York by the United States Attorney General, shows Abu Hamza al-Masri, the former imam at London's Finsbury Park mosque, in Great Britain (File Photo)

A controversial Islamic cleric in Britain has won an appeal against the government's attempt to strip him of his British passport. The decision creates further obstacles for U.S. authorities who want to extradite the cleric on terrorist charges.

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza's lawyers argued that he has already been stripped of his Egyptian citizenship. To strip him of his British passport as well, they argued, would render him 'stateless'. On those grounds, a Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled in Hamza's favor.

Hamza is an Egyptian-born cleric who has one eye and a hook for one of his hands. He is now serving a prison sentence in Britain for inciting murder and race hate and he is also facing extradition to the United States.

A spokesperson for Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron, said he was disappointed with the decision. But he said the ruling will not affect ongoing extradition proceedings, which could see Hamza sent to the United States.

Britain's Home Office said Friday it was "extremely disappointed" by the judgment.

Robin Simcox is from the London research organization Centre for Social Cohesion. He says getting the right balance between liberty and security is difficult. In this case, he says, he thinks the correct balance has not been found. "British citizenship is a privilege and when you have behaved in a way as Abu Hamza has obviously the privilege that is British nationality shouldn't be his to keep," he said.

Abu Hamza is a radical preacher and was formerly the head of Finsbury Park mosque in north London - a mosque, says Simcox, that was at the heart of Islamic radicalization in Britain during the 1990s. "A huge amount of the people convicted in British courts and people responsible for terrorist attacks both in Europe and in other parts of the world passed through Finsbury Park Mosque," said Simcox.

Hamza is wanted in the United States. Among other charges, he is accused of setting up an al-Qaida style training camp in the northwest state of Oregon. Earlier this year the European Court of Human Rights halted Hamza's extradition, saying his case needed more examination.