LONDON // Relief on both sides of the Atlantic greeted yesterday's decision by the European Court of Human Rights to approve the extradition of five Islamist terror suspects from Britain to the United States.
All five, including the radical cleric Abu Hamza Al Masri, had fought lengthy legal battles through the UK and European courts saying they would face inhuman and degrading treatment if convicted on terrorism charges in America.
Both the US and British governments were fearful that, had the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld their claims, it would effectively end any future extradition of terrorists across the Atlantic.
But in its judgment yesterday, the court said there would be no breach of the men's human rights if, upon conviction, they were detained at ADX Florence, a federal "supermax" prison in Colorado.
One of the men, Babar Ahmad, a 37-year-old Londoner accused of running a jihadist website, has been held in detention for almost eight years during his extradition fight - the longest period any person has spent in a British jail without being tried.
Abu Hamza, who will be 54 next week, is currently serving a seven-year jail term in England for soliciting murder and inciting racial hatred.
Described by the US Justice Department as a "terrorist facilitator with a global reach", Abu Hamza, who lost an eye and his hands when a mine exploded in Afghanistan in 1987, is facing 11 charges in the US, including hostage taking in 1998, planning the establishment of a terrorist training camp in Oregon and providing goods and services to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister David Cameron, who is visiting Japan, told reporters that he was "very pleased" at the ECHR decision, if frustrated by the amount of time it had taken.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the government would now "work to ensure that the suspects are handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible".
In a statement, the US Embassy in London described itself as "pleased" with the ECHR ruling. "We look forward to the court's decision becoming final and to the extradition of these defendants to stand trial in the United States," the statement added.
However, yesterday's ruling - which stated that "detention conditions and length of sentences of five alleged terrorists would not amount to ill-treatment if they were extradited to the USA" - might not mark the end of the affair.
The suspects have three months in which to appeal to the ECHR's highest court, the Grand Chamber, in a bid to have their cases re-heard. Although it would be unusual for the chamber to re-open cases that have already been subjected to years of legal scrutiny, Faras Baloch, the lawyer for Babar Ahmad, said yesterday that he expected his client to make such an appeal in a bid to have him tried in the UK.
In addition to Hamza and Ahmad, the ECHR approved the extradition of three other men: Seyla Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al Fawwaz. The case of a sixth, Haroon Rashid Aswat, was adjourned pending a further hearing on the medical treatment he could expect in US custody for his paranoid schizophrenia.
Bary and Al Fawwaz face charges relating to the bombing of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998 while Ahsan is accused of providing support to terrorists. Aswat has been described as Hamza's co-conspirator.