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The odd case of Jordanian-born Abu Qatada

A strange case has cropped up in Britain over a Jordanian-born Muslim preacher named Abu Qatada. The 51-year-old man, who took political asylum in Britain in 1993, is said to hold extremist views that inspired the 9/11 terrorists.

world Updated: Feb 17, 2012 00:48 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

A strange case has cropped up in Britain over a Jordanian-born Muslim preacher named Abu Qatada. The 51-year-old man, who took political asylum in Britain in 1993, is said to hold extremist views that inspired the 9/11 terrorists.

Having spent much going in and out of prison and fighting extradition to Jordan, Qatada has been release on bail under the orders of the distant European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. He cannot be deported to Jordan because he claims he will be tortured.

Nothing about this case is straightforward. The evidence against Qatada has never been made public. In all those years in prison, he has apparently never been questioned. And police are yet to charge him with any crime.

Yet, PM David Cameron clearly thinks he is a threat to national security.

"It is not acceptable where you have someone in your country that threatens to do you harm, that you cannot try, you cannot detain and you cannot deport," he said.

One view is that the secret services do not want to divulge the evidence against him in a trial, as that would compromise intelligence gathering.

A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service, tells me: "The CPS considers evidence provided to it by the investigative authorities and will bring charges where there is both sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction for an offense and it is in the public interest to do so. In the case of Abu Qatada the CPS has not to date received sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for any offense."

So, Britain wants to deport the man, Jordan wants to try him for a bombing plot and has given a "guarantee" he will not be tortured or threatened with torture, yet there is little that anyone can do because of the ECHR ruling. No wonder Cameron sounds frustrated.

Qatada is said to be careful not to espouse violence against Britain, but tapes of his sermon were found in the Hamburg flat of 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta. Now, backbench MPs from Cameron's Conservative Party are growing restive and want to see their leader take decisive action.