A London court has freed Abu Qatada, a controversial Muslim cleric who is said to have inspired the 9/11 suicide bombers, dealing a major blow to the British government’s efforts to deport him to Jordan.
Freeing him from prison in Worcestershire, a special court ruled on Monday that Qatada, who has spent most of the last decade in custody, may not get a fair trial in Jordan where he faces terrorism charges. Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Othman, took political asylum in Britain in 1993.
The high-profile legal battle to deport Qatada suffers from a basic flaw: the man has never been charged in Britain because the secret services believe making evidence against him public would compromise intelligence gathering. Additionally, Qatada’s lawyers argue that evidence gathered against him in Jordan were obtained by torture – a view the court upheld.
Recent declarations by the Jordanians that it had cleaned up its human rights act failed to convince judges at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission but a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said the government will appeal.
“We had received a number of assurances from the Jordanian government – they had even changed their constitution,” the spokesman said. “We believe that we have got the right assurances from the Jordanian government. The Home Office will be ensuring that we take all the steps necessary to ensure that Qatada does not present a risk to national security.”
After the British home minister travelled to Jordan, the European Court ruled in May that the 52-year-old cleric would not face ill-treatment if returned to Jordan, citing assurances given by Jordan. But the British Court rejected that view, saying a Jordanian court could use evidence against Abu Qatada that had been obtained by torturing others.
Experts say Qatada could now remain in Britain for years to come and even take his case once again to the European Court. But he will be allowed out of his house only between 8 a.m and 4 p.m. and will have to wear an electronic tag, so police can monitor whom he meets.