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EU court derails extradition request in U.S. terror case

Radical Muslim Cleric Abu Hamza looks on having conducted a service of Friday afternoon prayers outside the Finsbury Park Mosque March 28, 2003 in London. The controversial cleric was arrested on May 27, 2004 in London on an extradition warrant issued by the US.

Hugo Philpott/Hugo Philpott/Getty Images

European human rights judges on Thursday froze the extradition of four men from Britain to the United States because of concerns over the length of the jail terms they would receive if convicted on terrorism charges.

The European Court of Human Rights wants more time to consider whether to block the extradition request because of the possibility the men could be jailed for life without parole.

The four suspects, who are being held in British prisons, appealed to the European court after senior judges in London upheld a government decision in 2008 to approve the extradition.

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One of the men, Egyptian-born Abu Hamza, is a radical preacher who applauded the 9/11 attacks. A London court jailed him for seven years in 2006 for incitement to murder and other offences.

The United States accuses him of plotting to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Oregon, advocating violence in Afghanistan and plotting to seize 16 hostages in Yemen.

The three others fighting the U.S. extradition request are Britons Babar Ahmad, Seyla Talha Ahsan and Haroon Rashid Aswat.

Washington accuses all four of membership of al Qaeda or being involved in acts of international terrorism, the European court, based in Strasbourg, France, said on its website.

Aswat faces charges of being Hamza's co-conspirator in setting up the Oregon camp. Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of plotting to kill U.S. nationals, money laundering and giving support to the Taliban and Chechen militants.

The European court rejected the suspects' argument that they would not receive a fair trial in the U.S. courts.

The judges also dismissed suggestions the men might be declared "enemy combatants" and therefore become liable to the death penalty or extraordinary rendition, the practice of secretly sending suspects overseas for questioning.

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However, the judges said they wanted more time to consider the human rights implications of the long prison terms the men would receive if found guilty in the United States.

Hamza, Ahmad and Ahsan could be jailed for life without parole, while Aswat faces a maximum 50-year term, meaning he would be 78 before being considered for release.

The judges also had concerns about the maximum security prison in Colorado where three of the men would probably be held. Hamza, who is blind in one eye, has diabetes and has lost both his forearms, is thought unlikely to be sent there.

The court will consider whether conditions in the Colorado prison would breach article three of the European Convention on Human Rights that prohibits "inhuman or degrading treatment".

The British government has until Sept. 2 to respond to the court's decision. The judges will give a final ruling later.

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