ABU QATADA in British jail 390.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – A radical Islamist cleric who is said to have been Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe is set to be released by British authorities following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights.
On Monday, the president of the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Justice John Edward Mitting, ruled that Abu Qatada should be freed within days, on strict bail conditions, because his deportation had been blocked by the European court.
Last week, the European Court of Human Rights overruled the UK and blocked his deportation to Jordan, where he faces terrorism charges, claiming that if he were deported, evidence might be obtained by torture.
Abu Qatada is one of the most influential Islamist clerics in Europe and is a supporter of jihadist causes. He featured in hate sermons found on videos in the apartment of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the September 11 bombers.
Abu Qatada’s own defense team suggested he posed a “grave risk” to Britain’s national security.
The 51-year-old father of five arrived in the UK on a forged passport in 1993 and claimed asylum, saying that he had been tortured in Jordan.
He had been living in Pakistan near the Afghan border shortly before his arrival in Britain.
In 1999, he was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Jordanian court in his absence for conspiracy to carry out bomb attacks – allegedly targeting Americans and Israeli tourists. He was first detained in the UK in 2002, when an immigration court described him as a “truly dangerous individual.”
Abu Qatada is expected to be released within days from Long Lartin maximum security prison in Worcestershire, where he has been held for more than six years.
Attorney-General Domonic Grieve told the BBC
on Tuesday that the government is very concerned about this case and very much wishes to see Abu Qatada deported to Jordan and tried fairly once there.
“He cannot be deported unless the assurances which are required following the judgment in the European Court of Human Rights can be secured,” Grieve said.
Home Secretary Theresa May has vowed to fight the Islamist’s release.
“This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security and who has not changed in his views or attitude to the UK,” a Home Office spokesman said.
The government is considering an appeal against the European court’s ruling and will continue to try to secure assurances from Jordan that he will not be tried on evidence obtained using torture.
The decision to release the Islamic cleric means he can remain in the UK and will be able to claim up to £1,000 a month in state benefits.
The British taxpayer will also have to pay up to £500,000 a year for his security surveillance.
He will only be allowed to leave his home address for two one-hour periods a day, there will be restrictions on who can visit him and a ban on access to the Internet and electronic communications devices.
Abu Qatada was born in Bethlehem in 1960. He is under worldwide embargo by the UN Security Council Committee 1267 for his affiliation with al-Qaida. He is wanted on terrorism charges in Algeria, the US, Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Jordan.
Meanwhile the BBC has instructed its journalists not to refer to Abu Qatada as an extremist in order to avoid making a “value judgment.”
BBC heads have ruled that journalists can only describe him as a “radical.”
Journalists were also told that they should refrain from images that may show that he is overweight.
“We think very carefully about the language we use,” a BBC spokesman said. “We do not ban words – the notes are a reflection of a live editorial discussion about how to report the latest developments on this story.”