LONDON -- A radical Muslim preacher who praised the 9/11 bombings and preached terrorist violence against Christians and Jews won his latest appeal against a British government deportation order on Monday.
The judgment was a blow to Home Secretary Theresa May, who has long sought Abu Qatada’s deportation to face trial in Jordan, where he is wanted on terror charges.
The government's loss was compounded by the decision of Judge John Mitting, head of the Immigration Appeals Court where Qatada’s final appeal was heard, that the cleric be released on bail Tuesday -- albeit under severe restrictions on his contacts with the outside world and a 16-hour-a-day curfew.
Described by one judge as Osama bin Laden’s right hand man in Europe and labeled by the British government as a serious threat to national security, the Jordanian cleric, whose birth name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, has spent most of the last decade in and out of high security jails in Britain. He has faced allegations of disseminating terrorism and violence through speeches and videos, some of which were found in the apartments of the 9/11 bombers.
He has been detained under Britain’s post-9/11 anti-terror laws but never charged with a criminal offense. His constant appeals against deportation to Jordan have gone from the British High Court to the European Court of Human Rights back to the Special Immigration Appeals court in London.
His defense team argues that in Jordan he would face a trial based on evidence extracted by torture and his treatment there would violate his human rights.
Home Office teams have obtained assurances from the Jordanian government that Qatada would face a retrial under rules that discounted former torture-based evidence from two witnesses and no longer admitted torture-based evidence. However, Mitting's ruling Monday stated: “The Secretary of State has not satisfied us that, on retrial, there is no real risk that the impugned statements of Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher would be admitted probatively against the appellant.”
The court said in its judgment that “until and unless a change is made to the [Jordanian] Code of Criminal Procedure … and/or that it is for the prosecutor to prove to a high standard that the statements were not procured by torture, that real risk will remain.”
May told Parliament later Monday that the government would appeal.
"The government strongly disagrees with this ruling; Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist who is accused of serious crimes in his home country of Jordan,” she said.
In a brief statement aired on the BBC, Qatada’s defense lawyer, Gareth Peirce, said she realized it was a difficult case but “the time has come in the conflict of the world for us to talk to each other ... and enter into dialogue.”
Ben Ward, deputy from Human Rights Watch’s Europe division, told the BBC: “It’s now time for the government to put him on trial here [in Britain] or to release him without charge.”
His group did not consider assurances from Jordanians “worth the paper they’re written on. They may be given in good faith, but the fact is that torture evidence is still routinely used in Jordanian courts.”