Abu Qatada in court over attempt to flee Britain

Controversial Muslim preacher re-arrested


Controversial Muslim preacher Abu Qatada, who was arrested in Britain last week, appeared in court as a probe into an apparent leak of claims that he was planning to flee to Lebanon got under way.

Qatada, 48, father of five and once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, has been convicted of terrorism charges in his homeland of Jordan. But Britain cannot deport him there due to a court ruling in May which found that if it did, he could face mistreatment.

Abu Qatada was taken into custody over the weekend for allegedly violating his bail conditions, according to British newspaper reports.

He appeared before a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) hearing in London after being arrested Saturday.

Andrew O'Connor, the lawyer for the Home Office which wants his bail revoked, said that "inquiries were being made" into a report in The Sun newspaper that Qatada planned to flee Britain to Lebanon.

"If as it appears much of the report in Monday's edition of The Sun was based on a briefing from within the government, that briefing was unauthorized," he said.

"That report is of real concern and inquiries are being made."

Qatada's London home was searched a month ago and among the items found was a video showing him preaching about Islam in defiance of his bail conditions, the court was told.

But his lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said this actually showed him talking to his children about Eid and argued the evidence presented in public was "manifestly insufficient" to justify revoking bail.

Judge John Mitting agreed, although the hearing will also hear other evidence in private, when more sensitive intelligence material is likely to be discussed.

Born Omar Mahmud Mohammed Otman in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport and claimed asylum, gaining refugee status in 1994.

He was arrested in 2002 and spent three years in a high-security prison in London.

At the end of the prison term he was released, although made subject to a control order -- a loose form of house arrest -- but returned to jail in August 2005 as part of a crackdown against Islamist extremism after the London bombings the previous month.