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Mentally ill British man near plea deal in U.S. terror case: lawyer

NEW YORK: A mentally ill Briton is near a plea deal to resolve U.S. terrorism charges that he conspired with radical London cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri to set up a jihadist training camp in Oregon in 1999, his lawyer said Tuesday.

Haroon Aswat, who faces charges including conspiracy to provide support to al Qaeda and providing such support, has reached an “agreement in principle” to plead guilty, defense lawyer Peter Quijano said in Manhattan federal court.

“There’s a few random issues we need to resolve,” Quijano said after the hearing. “We’re very close.”

A deal could be reached within two weeks, Quijano told U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest, resolving the case ahead of a June 1 trial date.

A spokeswoman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Aswat, a British citizen of Indian descent, traveled to Oregon in 1999 with another man, Oussama Kassir, at Abu Hamza’s behest, in 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, prosecutors said.

A jury convicted the one-eyed, handless Abu Hamza in May, and Forrest in January sentenced him to life in prison.

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.

Aswat, 40, has been in custody since his arrest in Zambia in 2005 and deportation to Britain, where he was held pending an extradition request from the United States.

In 2008, he was transferred from prison to Broadmoor, a high-security psychiatric hospital in southern England, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

In 2013, 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, leading to his transfer in October. -Reuters

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