Attorney general hopeful extradition barrier can be resolved after human-rights court decides Osama bin Laden’s ‘right-hand man’ in Europe cannot be returned to Jordan.
Abu Qatada bail ruling is met with fury in UK
LONDON // A ruling by an immigration judge to free a Muslim cleric branded "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" was greeted with fury in Britain yesterday.
Abu Qatada, who has been held in a high-security prison for more than six years while fighting extradition to Jordan on terrorism charges, will be freed on bail this week after a ruling by Mr Justice (Sir John) Mitting.
The decision followed a ruling last month by the European Court of Human Rights that Qatada, whose writings were found in the Hamburg flat of Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders, of the September 11 attacks, could not be returned to Jordan for trial because there was a risk that evidence against him had been obtained through the torture of two witnesses.
British officials are currently negotiating with counterparts in Amman in a last-ditch bid to get written assurances from the Jordanians that evidence obtained by torture would not be used in legal proceedings against Qatada.
Dominic Grieve, the UK's attorney general, said yesterday that he was hopeful the issue could be resolved. "The government is obviously very concerned about this case, very much wishes to see Abu Qatada deported to Jordan and, when he's in Jordan, tried fairly if the Jordanian authorities wish to put him on trial," he said in a BBC radio interview.
Mr Justice Witting ruled on Monday afternoon that Qatada, 51, should be freed on bail on "highly prescriptive terms" because he had spent so long in prison without any resolution to the deportation bid in sight.
Bail conditions include a 22-hour curfew when he must remain at his London home with his wife and five children. He will be required to wear an electronic monitoring device.
All visitors will be vetted by the security services and he will be banned from using the internet or mobile phones.
The judge gave the government three months to show that ministers were making progress in their negotiations with the Jordanians or face the prospect of the bail conditions being removed.
"If by the end of that, the (Home Secretary) is not able to put before me evidence of demonstrable progress in negotiating sufficient assurances with the government of Jordan, it's very likely that I would consider that a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified," the judge said.
The decision infuriated politicians of every party. "This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security and who has not changed in his views or attitude to the UK," said a Home Office spokesman. "This is not the end of the road and we are continuing to consider our legal options in response to the European Court's ruling."
Keith Vaz, The chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, said most people would be "astonished" by Mr Qatada's release, while the UK Independence Party said Britain had been forced to free him because "our defences have been emasculated by our subservience to the European courts".
Qatada originally arrived in Britain on a forged passport in 1993. His preachings have included exhortations to kill Jews and the wives and children of apostates in Algeria.
He was first imprisoned in 2001 on terror-related charges in Britain, though these were later dropped, and he was investigated in the aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombings by a Spanish judge who called him "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe". He has twice been convicted in Jordan for conspiring to blow up two hotels.
Qatada, a Jordanian-Palestinian, is wanted in Jordan on charges arising from an alleged conspiracy to bomb hotels in Amman and for allegedly providing finance and advice for other terror plots.