A radical Islamist cleric accused of being a key al-Qaeda operative in Europe was freed from an English prison Tuesday after a British court used human rights laws to block his deportation to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
Britain’s government has tried since 2001 to deport Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric convicted in his absence in Jordan over terror plots in 1999 and 2000. The cleric was released on bail after a hearing Monday, as the Special Immigration Appeals Commission upheld Qatada’s challenge to Britain’s decision to send him to Jordan.
Judge John Mitting said he was not convinced the cleric would receive a fair trial in Jordan, despite the government’s insistence that it has won assurances from Jordan that the country’s constitution and a constitutional court “guarantee a fair trial” for Qatada.
Specifically, Mitting feared that evidence obtained through torture would be used against Qatada, which the judge said would breach his human rights.
The British government plans to appeal the ruling, as many officials spoke out against Mitting’s ruling.
“I am completely fed up with the fact that this man is still at large in our country,” said British Prime Minister David Cameron during a visit to Rome for talks with Italian officials. “He has no right to be there—we believe he is a threat to our country.”
Qatada has previously been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaeda figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.
He is accused by Britain of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Audio recordings of some of the cleric’s sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.
British Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said the case shows why the country’s Human Rights Act needs overhauling.
“I do not believe it was ever the intention of those who created the human rights framework that we are currently subject to, that people who have an avowed intent to damage this country should be able to use human rights laws to prevent their deportation back to their country of origin,” he told the House of Commons.
Qatada was driven out of the maximum security prison in Worcestershire to his home in London, where he will observe a 16-hour curfew, wear an electronic anklet, and is barred from using the internet and from contacting certain people.
David Anderson, Britain’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, told BBC Radio’s Today program that it could take years before Qatada is removed from Britain, as the Jordanian government needs to first amend its criminal code to ensure that they would not use evidence obtained by torture. He said that if this happens, then Qatada would be required to go through the deportation process again, which includes allowing Qatada repeated appeals.
“It’s a very frustrating episode for all concerned but as far as I can see this is not the end of the road,” he told Today.