LONDON — A radical Muslim preacher wanted for trial in the United States can hold on to his British passport, a court ruled yesterday, dealing a blow to the seven-year effort to strip one of the country’s most notorious Islamists of his citizenship.
Abu Hamza al-Masri’s lawyers successfully argued before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that he had already lost his Egyptian citizenship, and that depriving him of his British passport would effectively make him stateless.
Masri, who is blind in one eye and wears a hook for a hand, has long been Britain’s most recognizable extremist, known for his fiery anti-Western and anti-Semitic outbursts. He is wanted in the United States for a raft of alleged terrorist offenses.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed disappointment at the decision, but said it would not affect the bid to extradite him. The Home Office declined to say whether it would appeal the ruling.
Masri took control of north London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, which he transformed into an extremist hotbed. His numerous links to terrorists drew press and police attention.
British authorities moved to strip him of citizenship in 2003, part of an effort to expel him from the country, but the process was halted when US authorities charged him as an international terrorist facilitator and he was arrested pending extradition.
In the meantime, British authorities successfully prosecuted him for inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims.
Masri is currently serving a seven-year prison term at Britain’s Belmarsh prison. His extradition to the United States has been held up by concerns over the length of any possible sentence he would receive and the conditions at the maximum-security prison in Florence, Colo., where he might serve out any future sentence.