By Gilbert Reilhac
STRASBOURG, France (Reuters) - Britain can extradite its most notorious Islamist cleric to the United States to stand trial on charges that he supported al Qaeda and aided a fatal kidnapping in Yemen, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday.
Egyptian-born Abu Hamza al-Masri, a one-eyed radical with a metal hook for a hand who praised the September 11, 2001 attacks, faces a sentence of over 100 years in high-security U.S. prisons if found guilty, a step he said would contravene his human rights.
But the seven judges at the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights ruled unanimously that sending Hamza and four other suspects to such "Supermax" penitentiaries would be lawful and that they would not receive "inhuman and degrading treatment".
The court gave the suspects - including Babar Ahmad, Syed Tahla Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz - three months to appeal against the ruling to a panel of five European judges.
The case, pitting the rights of men suspected of grave crimes against the demands of the United States for justice, has electrified the British media, which vilified Hamza as "the hook-handed hate preacher" and agitated against hindrances to his extradition.
"Sling your hook," a frontpage headline in Britain's best selling newspaper, The Sun, once read, next to a picture of the preacher.
The Strasbourg court said U.S. authorities would however not allow Hamza, who sports a metal hook after losing his hands in unclear circumstances in Afghanistan, to serve his sentence in the Florence Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) prison in Colorado because of his disabilities.
Usually known for needling governments over human rights breaches, the court ruled that incarceration in Florence ADX - known as the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" and home to gang leaders, serial killers and bombers - for the other suspects would not amount to ill-treatment.
It adjourned its ruling on a sixth suspect, Haroon Rashid Aswat, pending a mental health report.
BRITAIN'S ISLAMIST CLERIC
A former preacher at the Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, Hamza is viewed as one of the most radical Islamists in Britain, a country he has attacked for its support of U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the red-brick mosque, dozens of worshippers streaming in for prayers were reluctant to talk about Hamza.
"People who are not Muslims think anyone who came into the mosque were extremists," Youba Sidali, a 30-year-old from Algeria, told Reuters below the white minaret. "I think Abu Hamza doesn't represent Muslims."
Hamza was jailed for seven years in 2006 for inciting murder and racial hatred and for possessing literature such as the Al Qaeda Handbook, a manual on how to wage war against governments and replace them with Muslim ones.
Hamza - real name Mustafa Kamal Mustafa - was indicted by a federal grand jury in new York in April 2004. He was accused of involvement in a 1998 hostage taking in Yemen which resulted in the deaths of four hostages - three Britons and one Australian.
He was also accused of providing material support to al Qaeda by trying to set up a training camp for fighters in the Pacific state of Oregon and of trying to organize support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited President Barack Obama in Washington last month, said he was pleased with the decision but frustrated with the time it took to approve the extradition.
"I'm very pleased with this news," Cameron said. "It's quite right that we have a proper legal process although sometimes you can be frustrated by how long this takes."
To the fury of many members of Cameron's Conservative party, Britain was forced to free another radical cleric, Abu Qatada, from prison in February to live under virtual house arrest after the European Court of Human Rights ruled his detention without trial was unlawful.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Peter Griffiths, additional reporting Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Giles Elgood)