LONDON -- A Muslim cleric imprisoned on suspicion of terrorism in Britain and convicted in absentia in Jordan on similar charges will remain in a British jail while awaiting a hearing on his appeal of an extradition order, a judge said Monday during a bail hearing.
Judge John Mittings of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission said at the hearing that Abu Qatada's case against deportation to Jordan, his homeland, would be heard in mid-October, with a final verdict a month later. In the meantime, the cleric will remain in a high-security jail, the judge ordered.
Qatada's defense lawyers said they would need until late September to assemble further evidence, delaying the British Home Office's efforts to deport the 51-year-old cleric any sooner.
The bail hearing was conducted behind closed doors as the court heard reports from intelligence officers. The judge eventually ruled that he could not risk releasing the cleric during the next few months while London is hosting the Summer Olympics.
A Home Office statement said: "Qatada is a dangerous man and we are pleased the court agreed with us that he should remain behind bars before he is deported."
Arrested under British laws that allow for the detention of those suspected of disseminating and inciting terrorism, Qatada has spent most of the last decade in high-security jails or under house arrest. He has never been charged in Britain and has so far successfully fought extradition to Jordan on the grounds that he would not receive a fair trial there as his original conviction was based on evidence extracted from witnesses by torture.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in 1993 seeking asylum. He is known for his anti-Western sermons advocating violence; videos of his speeches were found in the apartment of one of the 9/11 bombers.
Theresa May, the British home secretary, has said the Jordanian government has assured British officials that evidence extracted by torture is no longer permitted in its courts and that Qatada would be retried under new rules.
However, the cleric's lawyers say Jordan's human rights record had regressed in the last few months. One of the attorneys, Ed Fitzgerald, told reporters Monday that a key witness who claims he was tortured for evidence incriminating Qatada then promised release from jail under the new rules was back in custody and had no access to lawyers.
Although Mittings said he expected the ruling in November to be the final decision in the extradition case, Qatada's lawyers said they would launch a fresh appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against any eventual ruling that went against them, a procedure that could take several more months.
May has called the cleric a risk to national security, and the Home Office statement said it was its intention to "move him as quickly as possible."
-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Abu Qatada is taken to jail after a Special Immigration Appeals Commission hearing in London on April 17. Credit: Miguel Medina / AFP/Getty Images