NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A mentally ill Briton pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to U.S. terrorism charges that he conspired with notorious London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri to set up a jihadist training camp in Oregon in 1999.
Haroon Aswat, 40, was arraigned in federal court in New York on four counts, including conspiracy to provide support to al Qaeda and providing such support, after his extradition from Britain earlier in the day.
Wearing a blue jumpsuit several sizes too big and sporting long, curly hair, Aswat in a quiet voice entered a plea of not guilty to each count.
Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, was arrested in Zambia in 2005 and deported to Britain, where he was held pending an extradition request from the United States.
In 2008, however, he was transferred from prison to Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital in southern England, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
Last year, the European Court of Human Rights blocked his extradition because of his mental condition, saying his likely detention in a potentially “more hostile” environment could cause his mental and physical health to deteriorate.
After assurances from the United States that he would receive adequate care, however, London’s High Court approved the extradition last month.
Peter Quijano, a court-appointed lawyer for Aswat, told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest on Tuesday that Aswat would be transferred to a specialized facility elsewhere in the United States that can provide appropriate treatment.
Aswat is on antipsychotic medication, Quijano said in court.
The U.S. government has accused Aswat of traveling to Oregon in 1999 with another man, Oussama Kassir, at Abu Hamza’s behest, n order to help set up a militant training camp in a town called Bly.
Authorities also said a ledger recovered from an al Qaeda safe house in Pakistan contained Aswat’s name. The safe house was used by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused architect of al Qaeda’s attacks against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, according to prosecutors.
Kassir was convicted in New York in 2009 and sentenced to life in prison. Another conspirator, James Ujaama, pleaded guilty in 2003 and agreed to cooperate, testifying as a key witness at Abu Hamza’s trial this year.
A jury found Abu Hamza guilty in May on all 11 counts he faced. He is scheduled to be sentenced in January.
Abu Hamza, who was indicted in the United States in 2004 under his birth name, Mustafa Kamel Mustafa, spent eight years in prison in Britain for inciting violence before his extradition in 2012.
The case against Aswat is “almost identical” to a subset of the evidence brought against Abu Hamza, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Cronan said in court. A trial is not expected to begin until next fall.
Reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Stephen Addison in London; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, David Ingram and Jonathan Oatis