REPORTING FROM LONDON -- An Islamist preacher once labeled Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe cannot be deported from Britain to his native Jordan, where he is wanted on charges of terrorism, a European court ruled Tuesday.
The assertion of the preacher, known as Abu Qatada, that he would be subjected to torture by Jordanian interrogators was discounted by Europe’s Human Rights Court because there were “assurances to the [British] government from the Jordanian government,” said Clare Overy, a spokeswoman for the court, which is based in Strasbourg, France.
However, the court “did also find that there is a real risk that the evidence obtained from his co-accused by torture will be used against him at trial,” she said. If such evidence was used it is tantamount to legitimizing torture of suspects, she added, which could “lead to a grossly unfair trial.”
Abu Qatada, a 51-year-old father of five whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in 1993 seeking asylum. In 2002, he was arrested for preaching that violence and suicide attacks were justified in the name of Islam. Britain’s anti-terrorism laws authorize detention without trial for those suspected of inciting or conspiring in terrorist activities.
Bob Quick, a former counterterrorism official, told the BBC he considered Qatada “a most dangerous person” because of his worldwide influence and his contacts.
Replying to Tuesday’s ruling, Home Secretary Theresa May said in a statement: “I am disappointed that the court has made this ruling. This is not the end of the road, and we will now consider all the legal options available to us."
In the meantime, she added, Qatada will remain in detention in Britain. "It is important to note that this ruling does not prevent us seeking to deport other foreign nationals,” May said.
Qatada could apply for release under bail conditions.
Photo: Abu Qatada in 2005. Credit: British Prison Service