Terror suspect Abu Qatada released from British jail

AFP , Tuesday 13 Nov 2012

A radical Islamist cleric described linked to Al-Qaeda was freed from British prison after a court ruled he cannot be deported from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges

British authorities reluctantly released terror suspect Abu Qatada on bail Tuesday after judges ruled that the man dubbed Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe should not be extradited to Jordan.

Heavily bearded and wearing a black turban, the radical Islamist preacher smiled slightly as he was driven out of the high-security Long Lartin prison in central England in the back of a black minibus.

A small group of protesters gathered outside Abu Qatada's house in northwest London and chanted slogans calling for his deportation, as the father-of-five arrived home and was escorted into the modest terraced house by officials.

The court ruling on Monday was a severe blow for the British government, which has kept Abu Qatada in custody for most of the last 10 years and repeatedly tried to send him to the Middle East.

The Jordanian of Palestinian origin was convicted in absentia in Jordan in 1998 for involvement in terror attacks, but British judges accepted his argument that evidence obtained by torture might be used against him in a retrial.

Abu Qatada, who is in his early 50s, will be under a curfew 16 hours a day but can leave his home between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm. He will have to wear an electronic tag and restrictions will be placed on who he meets.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Tuesday that the government would make renewed efforts to deport him, amid outrage in the tabloid press that Abu Qatada was free to walk the streets.

"We are determined to deport him, we strongly disagree with the court ruling," he told ITV television.

"We are going to challenge it, we are going to take it to appeal. We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan, he does not belong here."

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said the interior ministry would be "ensuring that we take all the steps necessary to ensure that Qatada does not present a risk to national security".

The handful of protesters outside Abu Qatada's house held a "Get Rid of Abu Qatada" banner.

"He shouldn't be here. He was supposed to be deported to Jordan. It's a disgrace," said Jackie Chaunt, 50.

The European Court of Human Rights had ruled earlier this year that Abu Qatada could not be deported while there was a "real risk that evidence obtained by torture will be used against him" in a possible retrial.

Home Secretary Theresa May ordered Abu Qatada's extradition anyway after she was given assurances by Jordan that he would be treated fairly.

But the Special Immigration Appeals Commission -- a semi-secret panel of British judges that deals with national security matters -- ruled in Qatada's favour.

They said statements from Abu Qatada's former co-defendants Al-Hamasher and Abu Hawsher may have been obtained by torture and created a risk that any trial would be unfair.

The cleric, a father of five whose real name is Omar Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in 1993 claiming asylum and has been a thorn in the side of successive British governments.

Videos of his sermons were found in the Hamburg flat used by some of the hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks. He has also defended the killing of Jews and attacks on Americans.

A Spanish judge once branded him the right-hand man of late Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Europe, although Abu Qatada denies ever having met bin Laden.

Britain initially detained him in 2002 under anti-terror laws imposed in the wake of 9/11 but he was released under house arrest.

London first ordered his deportation in 2005 and his appeal against that order was rejected in 2009. May then signed a fresh deportation order and Abu Qatada appealed to the European court.

He was briefly freed on bail earlier this year but then re-arrested.

In October Britain extradited another radical Islamist preacher, Abu Hamza, and four other terror suspects to the United States.

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