Police arrested radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri on suspicion of terrorism links Thursday, a move suggesting Britain intends to charge him, which could delay U.S. attempts to extradite him.
Al-Masri was already in British custody following his May 27 arrest on the U.S. extradition warrant. Police said Thursday they were now arresting him “on suspicion of being involved in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.”
An American indictment accuses al-Masri of trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, being involved in hostage-taking in Yemen and funding terrorism training in Afghanistan.
London’s Metropolitan Police gave no details on what they suspected al-Masri of, but Britain’s Press Association news agency said the investigation centered on whether he provided support to terrorists in the form of recruitment, finances or logistics.
Investigators are examining whether the fiery sermons he gave when he was imam of the Finsbury Park mosque in north London might have encouraged others to commit terrorist acts.
Al-Masri, Britain’s best-known Islamic radical, preached at Finsbury Park Mosque in north London until he was ousted by its governors last year. He reportedly has been linked to several terrorist suspects, including Sept. 11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui and “shoe bomber” Richard Reid.
Al-Masri’s arrest under Britain’s anti-terror law suggests that authorities now plan to pursue al-Masri under British law as well as the American charges. Police said al-Masri had been taken to a central London police station and would be questioned by anti-terrorism officers.
If the Crown Prosecution Service formally charges a suspect, those allegations have to be resolved before any extradition proceedings can move forward, the service said, though it would not comment specifically on al-Masri’s case.
Prosecutors have not charged al-Masri. Under anti-terrorism laws, they have two weeks to decide whether to do so.
British law bars any extraditions to countries that might execute a suspect, and officials have made clear they would not send al-Masri to the United States unless America rules out the death penalty.
Al-Masri’s lawyers have said they fear he could be executed anyway, perhaps by a state court not bound by an agreement the federal agreement makes.