Abu Hamza and the Bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455: A Tale of Two Terrors
The Egyptian-born former militant once fought on the same side as the United States, which supported Osama bin Laden and other jihadists against the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. He lost both of his hands and an eye in that war. He also found himself on Washington’s side as he waged holy war against the Serbs during the Bosnian war in the 1990s.
In Britain, Abu Hamza preached Islamic fundamentalism and extolled the virtues of jihad in his fiery sermons at the notorious Finsbury Park mosque in North London. In 2004, he was arrested and charged under British anti-terrorism laws for allegedly instigating terror attacks in the UK. In 2006, he was found guilty of soliciting murder, stirring up racial hatred, and possession of a “terrorist encyclopedia” and sentenced to seven years behind bars.
The United States, Abu Hamza’s former ally, also wanted a piece of the infamous imam. He’d been indicted by a New York federal court on 11 counts of conspiracy to take hostages in Yemen in 1998, supporting al-Qaeda, advocating jihad in Afghanistan and attempting to set up a terrorist training camp in Oregon. In fact, British authorities arrested Abu Hamza at the request of the Bush administration.
The Justice Department began pressing for Abu Hamza’s extradition to the United States in 2004, but this would have to wait. First, there was the matter of his British trial, conviction and imprisonment. Second, there was the issue of the death penalty and torture. As a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, Britain was obligated to guarantee that Abu Hamza would not be executed or subjected to torture or other mistreatment if he was extradited to the United States.
In November 2007, Britain green-lighted the extradition. But Abu Hamza appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, Europe’s highest court. It would prove a tougher sell; upon considering America’s recent record of murder, rape extraordinary rendition, legalized torture and other abuse of thousands of detainees imprisoned during the War on Terror, the ECHR blocked Abu Hamza’s extradition to the United States.
Somehow, the Obama administration convinced the ECHR that Abu Hamza would be treated humanely in the US and his extradition was approved. He was transferred to American custody and arrived in the United States on the morning of October 6.
The irony of his arrival date surely went unnoticed.
On October 6, 1976, Cubana Airlines Flight 455 was bombed by Florida-based anti-Castro Cuban exile terrorists. Seventy-three innocent civilians, many of them teenagers, were killed. Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada Carriles, the masterminds of the attack– which was the worst act of airborne terror in the Western Hemisphere until 9/11– were hailed as heroes among Miami’s Cuban exile community and protected by powerful Republican politicians including Sen. Connie Mack, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gov. Jeb Bush and his father, then-President George H.W. Bush.
This, despite the fact that the Justice Department and FBI called the men the hemisphere’s “most dangerous terrorists,” who were responsible not only for the Cubana Airlines attack but also a host of other bombings, assassinations (including the car bombing death of a former Chilean official and his American aid in Washington, DC), and killings of innocent civilians.
These heroes/terrorists lived it up in Miami, which even celebrated an ‘Orlando Bosch Day’ in the unrepentant terrorist’s honor. Posada was tried– and acquitted– of immigration-related crimes in 2011. Imagine Washington’s reaction if Osama bin Laden had been arrested and tried only for being in the country illegally?
Remember America’s outrage when Abdel al-Megrahi was prematurely released from a British prison in 2009 for health reasons despite being sentenced to life behind bars for his role in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland? That act of terror claimed 270 lives, most of them American. Al-Megrahi returned to Libya where he was greeted by a jubilant crowd. President Obama was incensed. Attorney General Eric Holder fumed that “there is simply no justification” for releasing a terrorist like al-Megrahi. But scores, if not hundreds, of terrorists– including those responsible for the bombing of Cubana Flight 455– are living in the United States today.
Were the 73 civilians killed aboard Flight 455 any less innocent than those killed at Lockerbie? Of course not. But as renowned American thinker Noam Chomsky said, “‘their’ terror against us and our clients is the ultimate evil, while our terror against ‘them’ does not exist, or if it does, it is entirely appropriate.”
One is reminded of those famous words from then-President George W. Bush, spoken in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on America, declaring that “if you harbor terrorists, you are a terrorist.”
America would do well to remember those words as it prepares to bring Abu Hamza al-Masri to “justice.”