A British court today granted bail to a Muslim cleric described as one of Al Qaeda’s main operatives in Europe, according to The Associated Press.
Abu Qatada, 51, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, is wanted in Jordan on terrorism charges stemming from two alleged bomb plots there in 1999 and 2000, according to the AP. However the European Court of Human Rights ruled last month that he should not be deported because of the risk that evidence obtained under torture would be used against him.
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According to the AP, Abu Qatada is an extremist Jordanian preacher of Palestinian origin who has spent the last six years and much of the last decade in custody in the UK. British authorities wish to keep him in detention while they negotiate his transfer to Jordan.
But their success is less than assured. Abu Qatada’s lawyer, Ed Fitzgerald, told a judge at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission that his client had been held without charge for too long.
"However the risk of absconding, however the risk of further offending, there comes a point when it's just too long," the AP quoted Fitzgerald as saying.
Judge John Mitting appeared inclined to agree: He decided to give the British government three months to arrive at an agreement with Jordanian authorities but said this appeared unlikely.
Without progress in negotations, “"it's very likely that I would consider that a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified,” Judge Mitting was quoted as saying.
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Judge Mitting reportedly said that the conditions for Abu Qatada’s bail would be strict although these have not yet been set. According to the AP, British authorities may appeal against the European decision.
According to the AP, Abu Qatada arrived in the UK in 1993 and was detained in 2002 under a law allowing terrorism suspects to be held without charge. He was released after this law was repealed in 2005 but re-arrested within months pending deportation to Jordan.
According to the Agence France-Presse news agency, Abu Qatada was once labled Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe by a Spanish judge.
AFP said that Abu Qatada’s conditions of bail would include a 22-hour curfew, electronic surveillance and prohibition from using the Internet or any electronic communication. His visitors and movements will also be limited, the news agency said.