Mentally ill British suspect pleads not guilty in NY

An armored British prison van allegedly transporting suspected British terrorist Haroon Rashid Aswat for an extradition hearing enters London's Bow Street magistrate's court on October 6, 2005 (AFP Photo/Max Nash)

New York (AFP) - A mentally ill British man accused of supporting Al-Qaeda and conspiring to set up a terror training camp in the United States pleaded not guilty in a New York courtroom Tuesday.

Haroon Aswat is accused of travelling to the United States in 1999 on a mission to set up a training camp in the remote hamlet of Bly, Oregon to train militants who wanted to fight in Afghanistan.

He was allegedly dispatched on the mission by firebrand British preacher Abu Hamza, who was convicted in New York earlier this year on 11 kidnapping and terrorism charges.

The US government accuses him on four counts of conspiracy and providing material support to Al-Qaeda and to terrorists, which carry a maximum sentence of 35 years if convicted.

The 40-year-old, diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and held at a psychiatric hospital since 2008, was extradited to the United States on Tuesday, nine years after he was first arrested.

On Tuesday he appeared before US federal judge Katherine Forrest in Manhattan and entered a not guilty plea.

The judge instructed US marshals to give him his medication, sent over with Aswat on the flight from Britain. After the court appearance, he was transported to an unnamed facility.

The next hearing was scheduled for January 23 and Forrest said a trial could begin in September 2015.

British police said Aswat was taken from Broadmoor Hospital early Tuesday to a British airport and handed over to US authorities before being flown to America.

London's High Court gave the go-ahead for the extradition last month after judges said they were satisfied with assurances from US authorities about how Aswat would be treated in custody.

Last year, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) held that Aswat's extradition would breach an article prohibiting inhuman and degrading treatment.

Aswat was arrested in Zambia in 2005 and extradited to Britain, where he was re-arrested at the request of the US government.

After travelling to Bly, US officials say Aswat spent two months in Seattle living at a mosque where he witnessed men being given additional coaching on how to handle weapons.

They say that a ledger recovered by FBI agents from a safe house used by 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in Pakistan listed a number of individuals associated with Al-Qaeda, including Aswat.

Hamza, the former firebrand imam of Finsbury Park mosque in north London, was extradited from Britain in 2012 after an eight-year battle against extradition delayed by appeals to the ECHR.

He was convicted by a New York court in May on 11 kidnapping and terrorism charges and will be sentenced in January 2015.

The charges related to the 1998 abduction of 16 Western tourists in Yemen, providing material support to Al-Qaeda, assisting the Taliban and sending terror recruits to Afghanistan.

Four of the kidnapped tourists were killed.