A radical Muslim cleric was arrested yesterday in London on charges of seeking to set up an al Qaeda terrorist training camp in southwestern Oregon and on suspicion of involvement in the kidnapping of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, four of whom were killed.
The pre-dawn arrest by police from New Scotland Yard of Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, who also is known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, came just hours after warnings from Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that al Qaeda terrorists were planning to strike unnamed targets in the United States this summer and fall.
Mustafa, 47, was arrested on a U.S. extradition warrant and could face a death sentence.
The cleric appeared yesterday before a magistrate at the high-security Belmarsh prison in London and laughed when asked by the court whether he would consent to being extradited.
“I don’t really think I want to, no,” he said.
An 11-count indictment handed up in U.S. District Court in New York charged him with hostage-taking and conspiracy to take hostages in connection with the attack in Yemen in December 1998, which resulted in the deaths of three British tourists and one Australian — killed in a shootout involving Yemeni rescuers and Islamist extremists. The indictment said he spoke with the terrorists before and after the incident.
The indictment, returned April 19 and unsealed yesterday, also said he provided material support to terrorists, including al Qaeda, in an attempt to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., in October 1999 through early 2000. It also said he provided material support to terrorists, specifically al Qaeda and the Taliban, for facilitating jihad in Afghani- stan.
It said that on Oct. 25, 1999, a conspirator communicated to Mustafa that he and other conspirators were stockpiling weapons and ammunition in the United States.
“The Department of Justice is bringing the full weight of the criminal law against those who support the activities of terrorists,” Mr. Ashcroft said at a New York press conference to announce the indictment.
“The United States will use every available diplomatic, legal and administrative tool to pursue and prosecute those who facilitate terrorist activity around the world, and we will not stop until the war on terrorism is won.”
Mustafa, a former imam and nightclub bouncer, is thought to be the founder of an extremist Islamist group known as the Ansar Al-Shari’a, or Supporters of Shariah, which said it had supported mujahideen fighters in Afghanistan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kashmir. His now-shuttered Finsbury Park Mosque in London, where he once said the September 11 hijackers should be hailed as martyrs, has been tied to suspected al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard C. Reid.
He has one eye and a steel hook in place of his right hand from wounds he said he suffered fighting against the Soviet-installed Najibullah regime in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The requested extradition could be delayed because of Britain’s opposition to the death penalty. Britain and other European Union countries refuse to extradite suspects who face a death sentence because extradition is prohibited under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Mustafa could be sentenced to 100 years in prison if convicted of the charges, and U.S. authorities, in past cases, have dropped the death penalty as an option in efforts to expedite a prosecution.
British Home Secretary David Blunkett said in a radio interview yesterday an agreement with U.S. officials last year specified that in the Mustafa case, “They will not carry out an execution.”