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UK wins legal battle to deport Jordanian cleric

Abu Qatada to be retrialed in Jordan despite torture fears

Published:

Abu Qatada, a Muslim cleric once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, can be deported to Jordan despite his fears of torture, Britain's top appeal court ruled Wednesday.

Jordanian Abu Qatada is one of a group of Arab men the government has been trying to deport on national security grounds, while acknowledging it does not have enough evidence to put them on trial.

The Law Lords ruling was a victory for the Home Office (interior ministry) in its long-running campaign to deport Qatada to Jordan, where he is wanted on terrorism charges, and overturns a previous Court of Appeal decision.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith welcomed the ruling, and said she would move immediately to deport him.

"I'm delighted with the Lords' decision today ... My top priority is to protect public safety and ensure national security and I have signed Abu Qatada's deportation order which will be served on him today," she said.

"I am keen to deport this dangerous individual as soon as I can."

delighted with the Lords' decision today ... My top priority is to protect public safety and ensure national security and I have signed Abu Qatada's deportation order which will be served on him today

British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith

Faces trial in Jordan

In Amman, an official said Qatada faces retrial on return to Jordan.

"By law, he will be put on trial again once he arrives in Jordan because he was sentenced in absentia in 1998 and 2000 for 15 years of hard labor for terrorist activities," the official told AFP.

While the Law Lords -- a small group of members of the House of Lords -- is Britain's highest appeal court, the ruling could in theory be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, officials suggested.

Fears of mistreatment

The government has sought to counter rights groups' fears of torture by securing special agreements with the countries concerned that deportees will not be ill-treated.

However, rights group Amnesty International still voiced concern that the ruling could be taken as a green light to deport people to countries where they could face mistreatment.

"It would be deeply worrying if the Law Lords' decision were taken by the UK government as a green light to push ahead with deporting people to countries where they will be at risk of abuses such as torture and unfair trials," said Amnesty's Nicola Duckworth.

The Memorandum of Understanding between London and Amman, which Britain says provides assurance against Qatada's mistreatment in Jordan, was worthless, she argued.

"Diplomatic assurances are completely unenforceable and as such cannot be relied upon. No-one should be deported to face a risk of torture, whatever they might be alleged or suspected to have done," she added.

The 48-year-old -- real name Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman -- has been convicted of terrorism charges in Jordan but Britain was unable to deport him due to a court ruling in May which found that he could face mistreatment there.

It would be deeply worrying if the Law Lords' decision were taken by the UK government as a green light to push ahead with deporting people to countries where they will be at risk of abuses such as torture and unfair trials

Nicola Duckworth

In and out of prison

Qatada gained refugee status in Britain in 1994 and has been in and out of prison since.

He was released most recently in June on a strict form of bail, but in December he was ordered back behind bars after breaching his bail terms.

While in prison in 2007, Qatada offered to make an appeal for BBC journalist Alan Johnston who had been kidnapped in Gaza. Prior to that he had made an appeal for the release of British hostage Ken Bigley, who was subsequently killed by his captors in Iraq.

The British government says burly firebrand Qatada had "long-established" links to extremists across the world, including al-Qaeda and armed Islamist groups in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt.

Others said to have sought his advice include "shoe bomber" Richard Reid and the "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui, the only man to have been convicted in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Qatada was also said to be a "spiritual leader" to the al-Tawhid movement, whose head, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was seen as Al-Qaeda's representative in Iraq and responsible for attacks in Europe and Iraq until his death in June 2006.

Spain has accused Qatada of being an associate of Abu Dahdah, who was implicated in the Sept.11 attacks, and videotapes of his sermons were found in the Hamburg flat of Mohammed Atta, the presumed "9/11" ringleader.