LONDON – A terrorism suspect wanted in the United States and held for almost eight years in a U.K. jail as he awaits extradition urged authorities Thursday to put him on trial in Britain -- speaking publicly after the BBC won a legal battle to interview him in prison.
Babar Ahmad told the broadcaster that he had suffered a "nightmare fighting extradition for the past eight years," and insisted that he has never been properly questioned about the offenses he is alleged to have committed.
Ahmad, 38, has been detained in Britain since 2004 on a U.S. warrant and is accused of running websites used to raise money for terrorists, and of supplying terrorists with gas masks and night vision goggles. He has not faced charges in Britain, but has been held without trial for the longest period of any British citizen detained since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks the United States.
The European Court of Human Rights is deliberating over his attempts to fight extradition, and has been sharply criticized by Britain's government over the repeated delays in Ahmad's case.
"I have never been questioned about allegations against me and I have never been shown any evidence against me," Ahmad told the BBC, in an interview at Long Lartin jail in southern England. "It is fair to say I'm fighting for my life and I'm running out of time."
Justice Secretary Ken Clarke initially refused to grant the BBC permission to film the interview, saying government policy was to block such interviews with prisoners.
However, the BBC won a High Court challenge, when judges ruled that Ahmad's case was exceptional and that the interview ban was a "disproportionate interference" with his right to freedom of expression.
Prosecutors in Connecticut accused Ahmad in 2004 of running several websites including Azzam.com, which investigators say was used to recruit members for the al-Qaida network, Chechen rebels and the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Ahmad was originally arrested in Britain in 2003 on suspicion on terrorism offenses, but did not face charges from U.K. prosecutors and was later released. He was subsequently arrested in 2004 over the U.S. allegations.
"All the offenses against me are alleged to have happened in this country. Had the police and (prosecutors) put me on trial in 2003 -- which they could have done -- I would have left prison years ago regardless of the outcome. I have been in this nightmare fighting extradition for the past eight years," he told the broadcaster Thursday in the interview.
Ahmad acknowledged he had visited Bosnia several times during the 1990s, and had been involved in the conflict there.
"I went to the Bosnian army and I said I want to help defend your people. It was a moral, human obligation -- religion did not come into it," he said. "I was sent to different towns and villages that were besieged by the Serbs. I spent some time there and I took up arms. There were battles and I helped to defend towns against attacks."
But the computer specialist insisted he did not condone terrorism.
"I absolutely reject any allegation that I have supported terrorism and in any way and in any place -- whether in Chechnya, or Afghanistan, or any other part of the world. I believe terrorism to be wrong and I believe targeting and killing innocent people to be wrong," Ahmad told the BBC.
The suspect's father Ashfaq Ahmad said he hoped the interview would "give people an insight into his ongoing ordeal and why we are fighting so hard to have him tried in the U.K."
Campaigners hope the European Court of Human Rights will issue a final ruling in Ahmad's case on Tuesday.