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UK Muslim cleric Hamza arrested

Abu Hamza: One of Britain's best known Muslim radicals.
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British and U.S. authorities view hard-line Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri as a dangerous radical.
Abu Hamza

LONDON, England -- Controversial Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been arrested in London on an extradition warrant issued by the U.S. government and is due in court later Thursday to answers charges relating to terrorism.

The head of London's Metropolitan police said that special procedures had been put into place to liaise with London's Muslim communities over the case.

Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir John Stevens said: "I think most people will be aware Abu Hamza was arrested at 3:00 a.m. this morning in relation to terrorist offences related to the United States.

"We immediately put in place a proactive police community liaison process in Hammersmith and in Islington near the Finsbury Park Mosque and we are speaking to the Muslim Safety Forum.

"We need to make sure extra effort is put in after such an arrest and those people who have links in the community are a major part of delivering that reassurance."

Earlier London's Metropolitan Police said officers from the Extradition and International Assistance Unit arrested a "British citizen, aged 47" at about 3 a.m. Thursday following an American request for his extradition.

Abu Hamza's lawyer confirmed he was the man being held, saying she had spoken to him and he remained "calm."

Police said anti-terrorist officers had escorted Abu Hamza to a central London police station and conducted a search of his west London home under the Extradition Act 2003.

He was due to appear at Bow Street Magistrates' Court, sitting at Belmarsh Prison, later Thursday, the Metropolitan Police added.

The UK Home Office declined to comment on the arrest.

Police took away items from Abu Hamza's home which appeared to include videos, documents, a briefcase and a computer, the UK's Press Association reported.

A friend of the cleric, Hani el-Sebaie who runs the London-based al-Maqreezi Centre for Historical Studies, told Reuters in Cairo by telephone that police took his family to a nearby hotel in London as they searched his home.

"Anti-terrorism police raided the house of Abu Hamza al-Masri this morning and took him away," Sebaie said.

Abu Hamza, who has a hook for one hand, is one of Britain's best known Islamic radicals. He has been fighting deportation by the UK government, which has accused him of advising and supporting terrorist groups, including al Qaeda. The Egyptian-born cleric also is wanted in Yemen on charges of orchestrating terrorism there from Britain.

The British government revoked his British citizenship in April 2003, calling him a threat to the country's interests. He has appealed that decision to a special immigration tribunal and a ruling is not expected until January 10 next year.

The former head preacher at Finsbury Park mosque in north London who has one eye and a severed hand -- lost, he says, fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- has been attacked repeatedly in the tabloid press in Britain.

He sparked media outrage with sermons calling the invasion of Iraq a "war against Islam," claiming the September 11 attacks were a Jewish plot and calling the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster a "punishment from Allah" because Christian, Jewish and Hindu astronauts were aboard.

Recently, he had his Web site banned after offering a direct link to video of the execution of American hostage Nicholas Berg.

At an immigration hearing last month, a government lawyer said Abu Hamza had "provided advice and support to terrorist groups," including al Qaeda and the Islamic Army of Aden, the organization that claimed responsibility for the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. (Full story)

Hamza has continued to preach outside the Finsbury Park mosque.

The lawyer said Abu Hamza had encouraged others to engage in jihad, "including fighting overseas and engaging in terrorist acts."

Abu Hamza, who married a British woman and took British citizenship in 1981, denies any involvement in violence and says he is only a spokesman for political causes.

At Thursday's hearing, details of the extradition warrant and the offences he is accused of by the U.S. authorities will be heard.

Abu Hamza's lawyer, Muddassar Arani, told BBC radio she had spoken to him and he was "quite calm about it." But she had been taken by surprise by his arrest in the early hours.

"I was not expecting him, obviously, to be arrested," she said.

Arani said she knew nothing of the charges against her client and had "no idea" whether they were terrorism-related.

"All I know is that apparently an extradition order was obtained from Bow Street magistrates yesterday, an extradition order from America. That is all I know," she said.

Abu Hamza is likely to face several court appearances and the process could take months as suspects have the right to appeal against extradition decisions.

The Sun newspaper, quoting sources in Washington, said the extradition process had been under way in secret for weeks.

-- CNN Senior International Correspondent Walter Rodgers contributed to this report

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