British hacker Gary McKinnon's extradition to the US has been temporarily held up by the European Court of Human Rights.

McKinnon faces computer misuse charges after allegedly knocking 2,000 US computers offline; deleting 2,455 user accounts and logs on computers at Naval Weapons Station Earle; and copying data from US Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA computers. Damage from the attacks, which took place six-and-a-half years ago, was estimated at $700,000.

McKinnon lost his last UK appeal on July 30. He fought extradition on grounds that US authorities bullied him, trying to elicit a confession from him in exchange for a lesser sentence, a tactic known as plea bargaining and commonly used by prosecutors in the US.

However, the European Court of Human Rights said Gary McKinnon, 42, of London, should be allowed to stay in the UK until August 28 when the court reconvenes and can make a further decision on whether to stop his extradition pending a last-ditch appeal, said Karen Todner, McKinnon's lawyer.

A US Embassy spokesman said today he was aware of the latest development but could not comment.

McKinnon's persistent battle against extradition could very well land him with a longer sentence. If he had pleaded guilty when the US offered him a deal, McKinnon could have been sentenced to as few as four years.

After serving six to 12 months in the US, he could have returned and done the rest of his sentence in the UK. A parole board could have authorised his release after serving a total of only two years, according to the Lords' judgement.

If he is extradited and prosecuted in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, he could face up to 60 years in prison.

McKinnon has also contended that he could be classified as a terrorist since the US government alleges he disrupted critical military networks following the September 11, 2001, attacks.