STRASBOURG: The European Court of Human Rights blocked Thursday the extradition from Britain to the United States of radical Muslim cleric Abu Hamza Al-Masri and three other men facing terror charges.
The court said the applications of the four "alleged international terrorists" against their extradition on human rights grounds were partially admissible and needed further examination.
It was in the "interests of the proper conduct of the proceedings that the applicants should not be extradited while the cases were being examined by the Court," it said in a statement.
Egyptian-born Hamza, a former imam of the once-notorious Finsbury Park Mosque in north London who has one eye and a hook for one hand, is serving a seven-year jail term for inciting followers to murder non-believers.
The other men in jail awaiting extradition are British nationals Babar Ahmad, Haroon Rashid Aswat and Seyla Talha Ahsan.
Britain said they would remain in custody until the European court reached its final decision.
The Strasbourg-based court said it wanted to look into the men’s concerns over the length of their possible sentences and conditions at the ADX Florence "supermax" prison in Colorado where they were likely to be held.
It gave them until Sept. 2 to submit more arguments.
The four have been indicted on various terrorism charges in the United States between 2004 and 2006.
Hamza, in his 50s, has been charged with 11 counts related to the taking of 16 Western tourists in Yemen in 1998 when three Britons and an Australian were killed.
He is also charged with advocating violent jihad in Afghanistan and conspiring to establish a jihad training camp in the northwest state of Oregon.
He has lost appeals in Britain against his extradition.
Aswat has been indicted as Hamza’s co-conspirator, the European court statement said.
Ahmad and Ahsan are accused of providing support to "terrorists" and conspiracy to kill, kidnap, maim or injure, or damage property in a foreign country, it said.
The judges did not accept the men’s concerns they could be treated as "enemy combatants", which could carry the death penalty.
They also rejected the claims that their trials "would amount to a flagrant denial of justice", the statement said.
However in the case of Ahmad, Aswat and Ahsan, likely to be imprisoned at ADX Florence, their complaints "concerning the stringency of conditions there for what could be the rest of their lives, raised serious questions of fact and law".
The judges did not have this concern about the ailing Hamza as was only likely to spend a short time there until his health was assessed.
"The Court further declared all four applicants’ complaints … concerning the length of their possible sentences admissible for further examination of the merits," it said.
Ahmad, Ahsan and Hamza face life sentences without parole and Aswat a maximum of 50 years’ imprisonment, which would make him 78 years old before becoming eligible for release, it said.
Britain would keep the men in jail until the final outcome, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement.
"We await the court’s judgment on the case. In the meantime these individuals will remain in custody," she said.