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After Years-Long Legal Battle, Terrorism Suspects In U.S.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Prosecutors are calling it a milestone for the U.S. justice system. A radical Islamic cleric and four other of America's most wanted terrorism suspects have finally appeared in courts in New York and Connecticut. Authorities had fought for years to extradite the men from the United Kingdom. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: U.S. marshals and FBI agents delivered the radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to a courthouse in Lower Manhattan eight years after the Justice Department began to seek his custody. Al-Masri's been locked up in the U.K. for inciting hatred at his mosque in North London in Friday prayer sessions like this one, a decade ago, when he exhorted followers to join the holy war.

ABU HAMZA AL MASRI: You also can do from everywhere, you should do it. Do it by mosque, by bus, by money, by e-mail, by anything.

JOHNSON: Last week, he and the four other suspects exhausted their last ditch arguments in front of Britain's high court. Al-Masri's blind in one eye. He normally uses hooks to replace his missing hands. Gone, since he says he lost them fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. Yesterday, his public defender asked the judge to order that he be given back his prosthetics so he could clean himself and prepare for court again next week. Prosecutors accuse al-Masri of taking hostages in Yemen in 1998, establishing a terrorist camp in Oregon in 1999 and supporting violent jihad in Afghanistan in the run-up to the September 11th attacks. Two other men now in New York - Adel Abdel Bary and Kahled al-Fawwaz - pleaded not guilty to charges they conspired with al-Qaida to kill Americans. They allegedly ran in the same circles as Osama bin Laden. Prosecutors say they linked Abdel Bary to the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people. Preet Bharara is the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

PREET BHARARA: These are men who are at the nerve centers of al-Qaida's acts of terror and they caused blood to be shed, lives to be lost and families to be shattered.

JOHNSON: And he added...

BHARARA: After years of protracted legal battles, the extradition of these three alleged terrorists to the U.S. is a watershed moment to our nation's efforts to eradicate terrorism.

JOHNSON: Meanwhile, up in Connecticut, two lesser-known suspects accused of running web sites that supported terrorists are preparing to face trial in New Haven. They're being tried in Connecticut because an Internet service provider in the state hosted their sites. The Justice Department promised to try all five of the men in ordinary federal courts, not military tribunals, as part of the agreement to bring them to the U.S. Authorities also promised not to seek the death penalty, so the toughest punishment available is life in prison. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.