REPORTING FROM LONDON -- A British appeals court on Monday ordered the government to release on bail a radical Muslim cleric who had been detained as a threat to national security for much of the past decade.
Abu Qatada, also real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, could walk free within a week following the ruling by Judge John Mittings of the Special Immigration Appeals Court.
Qatada’s defense lawyer Ed Fitzgerald told the court that his client’s detention “has gone on for too long to be reasonable or lawful and there is no prospect of the detention ending in any reasonable period.”
Qatada will face strict bail conditions in accordance with the demands of the government’s Home Office, including a curfew that will require him to remain at home for 16 hours a day. He had disobeyed similar bail conditions in 2008, which led to his return to Long Lartin high security prison.
Qatada, a 51-year-old Jordanian, arrived in Britain seeking asylum in 1993. He was arrested in 2002 on suspicion of inciting terrorism under anti-terror laws imposed after the Sept. 11 attacks that authorized the detention of those suspected of conspiring in or supporting terrorism.
Qatada, who has never been formally charged in Britain, was known for preaching in person and via videotape in favor of violence and suicide attacks and described by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon as Osama bin Laden's "right hand man in Europe."
Monday's decision came just three weeks after the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Qatada's appeal on another matter -- a deportation order from Britain to Jordan, where he had been convicted in absentia on terrorism charges.
The European ruling acknowledged that the evidence on which Qatada’s conviction was based was obtained under torture and therefore invalid. The court also said there was still a risk that any further evidence against Qatada in any future trial there could be extracted under torture.
British Home Secretary Theresa May had sought to keep Qatada behind bars while negotiations with the Jordanian government went on to ensure Qatada a fair trial with torture-free evidence but Mittings said he saw little progress on those talks.
Qatada could be freed but held "on highly prescriptive terms for three months," the Daily Telegraph quoted the judge as saying.
"If by the end of that, the secretary of state is not able to put before me evidence of demonstrable progress in negotiating sufficient assurances with the government of Jordan ... it's very likely that I would consider that a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified.”
Tim Eicke, an attorney representing the home secretary, said there was "no indication here from the appellant that he has changed his views or his attitude to the UK and the threat he poses to it," the Guardian reported.
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Radical cleric Abu Qatada is seen at his North London home in this file photo from Oct. 19, 2001. Credit: Associated Press