U.K. officials arrested Islamic cleric Abu Qatada and told him he faces deportation to Jordan, as the government attempted to bypass a European court ruling stopping him being sent for trial on terrorism charges.
Abu Qatada, a Jordanian whose real name is Omar Othman, was detained by U.K. Border Agency officials today, Home Secretary Theresa May told lawmakers. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, ruled Jan. 17 that he couldn’t be deported to Jordan because courts there might use evidence gained through torture. He was granted bail by a British court in February and freed from a high-security prison under a 22-hour curfew.
“The assurances we have received from Jordan mean we can undertake deportation in full compliance with the law,” May told the House of Commons in London. “We can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good.”
The Jordanian cleric has been described by a judge in Spain as former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe. A British man was kidnapped and murdered in Niger in 2009 by al-Qaeda’s north African network, which had threatened to kill him if the U.K. didn’t release Abu Qatada. He has denied links to al-Qaeda.
May traveled to Jordan last month to seek assurances from the government allowing Abu Qatada to be sent home. She said the cleric will be tried by a civilian court, in public, with the right to call defense witnesses. His current conviction in the country, from a trial in his absence, will be quashed on his arrival.
Abu Qatada will be retried in line with Jordanian laws, the country’s minister of state for media affairs, Rakan Majali was quoted as saying by the state-run Petra news agency. “The Jordanian constitution ensures a fair trial,” he said.
The ECHR ruling is one of a number that have angered Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, which argues that European judges are interfering too much in British justice and political decisions. Cameron called in January for changes to the court to reduce that interference, and a meeting of the 47-nation Council of Europe gets under way in Brighton, southern England, on April 18 to discuss the future of the tribunal.
The court ruled last week that Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Islamic cleric jailed for inciting murder and racial hatred, can be extradited from Britain to the U.S., dismissing his argument that prison conditions there would violate his human rights.