LONDON (Reuters) - British judges on Tuesday dealt a fresh blow to efforts to expel a radical cleric once described as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe", prompting the government to vow to take its case to the country's highest court.
Britain says Abu Qatada, whose sermons were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of those who carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States, is a security risk and should be returned to his native Jordan where he was convicted on terrorism charges in 1999.
But in an increasingly embarrassing saga for Home Secretary Theresa May, judges have repeatedly blocked the move, citing fears that evidence obtained through torture may be used against Qatada in an expected retrial in Jordan.
Last month, judges rejected an appeal against a November ruling by Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission blocking Qatada's deportation, prompting the government to seek permission to appeal to Britain's highest court.
The Court of Appeal, which filters requests to appeal to the Supreme Court, has now rejected the government's request.
"We are disappointed with the Court of Appeal's decision but will now request permission to appeal directly from the Supreme Court," the Home Office said in a statement.
"The government remains committed to deporting this dangerous man and we continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation," the statement added.
Although the government can request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court directly, success is seen as less likely than if the Court of Appeal had agreed to allow it.
The government will have no other legal avenues left if the Supreme Court decides not to hear its case.
Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" has been in and out of jail since first being arrested in 2001, and was last month sent back to jail for breaching his bail conditions.
His presence in Britain has been an embarrassment for the Conservative-led government, which has pledged to toughen immigration rules and has promised to get rid of him.
May's lawyers have described him as a "truly dangerous" individual, a point judges do not dispute. But despite assurances from Jordan, they fear a "flagrant denial of justice" if Qatada were returned there for a retrial.
Britain's opposition Labour party said the government had employed a "failed" legal strategy.
"A year ago Theresa May promised Abu Qatada would soon be on a plane. Now it is clear her legal strategy has completely failed," Labour interior affairs spokeswoman Yvette Cooper said.
"We want to see Abu Qatada deported as a matter of urgency to face fair trial in Jordan. The Home Secretary and the courts have said he is a very dangerous man," she added.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; Editing by Jon Hem,ming)