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British Jews applaud cleric’s trial

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LONDON, Oct. 26 (JTA) — While British Jewish groups are happy that an extremist Muslim cleric has been charged with offenses including calling for the murder of Jews, they warn that his is not an isolated case. Abu Hamza al-Masri, the former imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in north London, faces multiple life sentences if convicted on a 16-count charge sheet. “We welcome the prosecution of those who seek to solicit the murder of Jews,” said a spokesman for the Board of Deputies, the representative body of U.K. Jewry. But he added, “We are particularly concerned about those people who continue to use rhetoric that is likely to incite violence and racial hatred.” A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, an organization that monitors far-right and extremist-Islamic threats to the Jewish community, agreed. While pleased that charges had been brought against the radical preacher, he said, “This is not an isolated case,” and warned that the authorities still needed to take action to combat the dangers posed by radicalism. “It is good news, although it’s incredible that it has taken so long to even bring charges,” said Louise Ellman, a member of Parliament and one of the lawmakers who repeatedly has called for steps to be taken against the cleric. But Ellman, who is Jewish, feels authorities still need to do much more. “Hamza is very vocal and high profile, but there are others hiding behind him,” she said. “This should be the start of determined action against those who incite hatred and violence. I suspect there are many more.” Hamza, 47, who lost his hands and an eye while fighting the Soviet army in Afghanistan, appeared in court Oct. 19 and again Tuesday. The Egyptian-born preacher showed little emotion as the long charge sheet was read out, and only nodded to confirm his name and date of birth. The trial was adjourned until Dec. 21. The offenses, all of which are alleged to have taken place on or before May 27, 2004, are based on alleged tapes of Hamza’s addresses to public meetings. Ten involve soliciting murder, each carrying a maximum sentence of life in prison. Four of the charges relate to accusations that Hamza solicited others to murder Jews specifically, while the other six allege that at a public meeting Hamza solicited or encouraged “persons unknown to murder another person or persons, namely a person or persons who did not believe in the Islamic faith.” Hamza also faces four charges of “using threatening, abusive or insulting words or behavior with the intention of stirring up racial hatred.” A separate charge concerns the possession of eight video and audio recordings that Hamza allegedly intended to distribute to stir up racial hatred. In the only charge to fall under the 2000 Terrorism Act, rather than criminal law, Hamza was accused of possessing a document “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” Hamza first came to London as a student in 1979 and gained British citizenship by marrying an English woman, whom he since has divorced. The former nightclub bouncer was arrested in August after the United States requested his extradition on charges that cannot be reported for legal reasons. There has been speculation that the U.K.’s decision to prosecute him may have caused diplomatic tensions with the United States, as the extradition process now will be substantially delayed. The case is likely to take at least a year before coming to court, and action on the U.S. warrant can be resumed only after the U.K. trial has finished. Hamza will remain in custody at the top-security Belmarsh prison, where he is due to be fitted with a new $9,200 aluminum hook paid for by the National Health Service.

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