Radical cleric can be deported to Jordan: British court
LONDON – Abu Qatada, a radical Muslim cleric once labelled Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, can be deported to Jordan despite his fears of being tortured there, Britain's top court said Wednesday.
The Home Office won an appeal against a court ruling preventing Qatada’s deportation to Jordan, where he has been convicted on terrorism charges.
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith welcomed the ruling by Britain’s Law Lords – a small group of members of the upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords – 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."
Qatada’s lawyer, Gareth Peirce, condemned the decision as a "backwards step" in Britain’s willingness to confront torture and her client would appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
"This judgment will pour a dose of cold water on our belief that we have indeed advanced in our willingness to confront the ugly issue of the use of torture," she said.
In Amman, an official said Qatada faced retrial on return to Jordan. Qatada is wanted there for funding a terrorist network known as Reform and Challenge (Al Islah Wal Tahhadi) that was dismantled in 1999.
"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 labour for terrorist activities," the official told AFP.
Jordan’s Minister of Justice Ayman Odeh said: "If he is deported, he will get a fair trial in line with Jordanian legislation."
Rights group Amnesty International 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.
A 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 – whose real name is 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.
Qatada – who was labelled Bin Laden’s "right-hand man" by leading Spanish anti-terrorist judge Baltasar Garzon – 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.
The British government says 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 convicted in connection with the September 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.
Lord David Hope, one of the five Law Lords who ruled unanimously against Qatada, said the public might question why Qatada had been able to resist deportation for so long.
"Why hesitate, people may ask. Surely, the sooner they are got rid of, the better? On their own heads be it if their extremist views expose them to the risk of ill-treatment when they get home," he said, while insisting that Qatada was entitled to the protection of the law.
[AFP / Expatica]