UK releases Muslim cleric aligned with Bin Laden

Move follows ruling against Abu Qatada’s deportation to Jordan.

ABU QATADA in British jail 390 (photo credit: REUTERS)
ABU QATADA in British jail 390
(photo credit: REUTERS)
LONDON – A UK court freed a radical Islamist cleric described as Osama bin Laden’s righthand man after it ruled Tuesday that he might not get a fair trial if he were deported to Jordan.
Abu Qatada is one of the most influential Islamist clerics in Europe. He featured in hate sermons found on videos in the apartment of Muhammad Atta, the leader of the September 11 bombers. In a speech in London in 1999, he advocated the killing of Jews and praised attacks on Americans.
It is the latest embarrassment for the British government, which has tried for 11 years to deport the preacher to Jordan where he faces terrorism charges.
Abu Qatada’s own defense team suggested he posed a “grave risk” to Britain’s national security.
British taxpayers spend $8.3 million a year on round the clock surveillance of his home.
It has already cost taxpayers more than $1.6m. in legal fees and benefits.
In April British authorities rearrested him and Home Secretary Theresa May declared that he would soon be on a plane to face trial in Jordan.
However, following an appeal, the European Court of Human Rights overruled the UK and blocked his deportation, claiming that if deported evidence might be obtained by torture.
On Monday, despite Britain receiving assurances from Jordan that he would face a fair trial, Britain’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) ruled it was not satisfied Abu Qatada would be tried fairly and ordered him to be released.
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 was granted leave to remain in Britain in 1994.
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.”
In 2001, anti-terror police arrested Qatada over involvement in a plot to bomb a Christmas market in Strasbourg.
He had £170,000 in cash, including £805 in an envelope marked “for the Mujahedin in Chechnya,” in his possession.
On Tuesday, the radical cleric left Long Lartin prison in Worcester and returned to his home in Wembley, North West London, but will have to comply with strict bail conditions.
He will be subject to a 16-hour curfew, wear an electronic tag, and not be allowed to use the Internet. He is also barred from contacting certain people, who cannot be named for legal reasons.
The Home Secretary insists he is still “a dangerous man” and a “suspected terrorist” and said that the government is appealing the latest court ruling.
“We had received a number of assurances from the Jordanian government – they had even changed their constitution,” a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday.
“As the Home Secretary said, we will be appealing the judgment.
We believe that we have got the right assurances from the Jordanian government.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: “We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan, he does not belong here.
“He wanted to inflict harm on our country and this coalition government is going to do everything we can to challenge this every step of the way to make sure that he is deported,” Clegg added.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said Qatada’s release on bail shows why the Human Rights Act needs to be revamped.
“All of us believe the law should not operate in this way and this case underlines my view that there is a very real need for major changes to the way the European human rights framework operates,” he said.