Cleric can’t be deported from UK: Court
LONDON AN extremist cleric described as one of Europe’s leading Al Qaeda operatives should not be deported to face terrorism charges in Jordan because of the risk evidence obtained through torture would be used against him, Europe’s highest court ruled on Tuesday.
After a six-year legal battle, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that deporting Abu Qatada from Britain – where he is in prison custody – would “give rise to a flagrant denial of justice.” Abu Qatada – whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman – is an extremist Muslim preacher from Jordan who has been described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading Al Qaeda figure in Europe.
A Palestinian-Jordanian citizen, Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993 and was detained in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be held in jail without charge.
Though Abu Qatada was released in 2005, when the unpopular law was overturned, he was kept under surveillance and arrested again within months, to be held pending his deportation to face terrorism charges in Jordan.
He was convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000, and would face a retrial if deported there from Britain.
Although Abu Qatada has never faced criminal charges in Britain, authorities in the U.K. have accused him of advising militants and raising money for terrorist attacks.
He “is a leading spiritual adviser with extensive links to, and influence over, extreme Islamists in the UK and overseas,” prosecutors told a British court in 2007.
Britain’s Home Secretary Theresa May said she was disappointed by the ruling and the government would consider appealing the European court’s decision. It has a three-month window in which to make any appeal, the court said.
“This is not the end of the road,” May said. She confirmed Abu Qatada would remain held in British prison custody while a decision is made.
May has not specified what Britain would do if it loses any appeal, though it is likely Abu Qatada would be freed from prison and monitored under a surveillance programme which requires those suspected of involvement in terrorism, but not charged with any crime, to abide by a curfew and wear an electronic anklet.
Britain’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission has previously been told Abu Qatada was also suspected of links to a bomb plot in Strasbourg, France, and to the raising of funds for terrorism in Chechnya.
In their ruling, the European judges based in Strasbourg said they did not accept Abu Qatada’s claims that he would face ill treatment or torture at the hands of Jordanian authorities if sent there for trial, citing recent agreements between Jordan and the UK.