The UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission granted at the beginning of the week the appeal of Abu Qatada, a Muslim cleric and a controversial figure, believed to be part of Al Qaeda (some have even called him “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”). The sentence allows him not to be extradited to Jordan, for the court considered he could not receive a fair trial in the latter country (citing the fact that Jordanian law allows the use of evidence gained as a result of torture), where he is accused of setting up terrorist attacks in 1999 and 2000 (he has been already convicted in absentia there). The cleric was thus released on bail yesterday, though subject to a 16-hout curfew (besides electronic tagging, a ban on Internet use and prohibitions on meeting some people). The thing is that even though the European Court of Human Rights [ECHR] (a very much moot body for many UK politicians) had already blocked his deportation, he was arrested in April to begin deportation.
The sentence is considered the latest in seven years of legal battles portrayed by his lawyers as a “crucial test of British justice proceedings”. Indeed, Qatada was granted political asylum in 1994 (claiming that he had been tortured in Jordan), but was arrested in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, even though he has never been formally charged with a crime in Britain. Later that year, he went into hiding but was arrested again in 2002 and held until March 2005 when he was released, after a House of Lords’ judgment declared his detention without trial to be unlawful. In February 2009 the ECHR ordered UK to pay £2,500 in damages, for his imprisonment had violated the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights. In April 2008, a Court of Appeal decision blocked his deportation, but the decision was overruled in February 2009, when the House of Lords ruled that Qatada could be returned to Jordan.
The ruling is above all considered by many as a backlash to the British government, as British authorities have been seeking to deport him for years. Home Secretary Theresa May said the government would appeal Monday’s ruling, which was “deeply unsatisfactory”: “Qatada is a dangerous man, the government has been doing everything it can to get rid of him, and we will continue to do so”. Consequently, Ms May added they plan to overhaul the country’s extradition laws. The court’s sentence, however, seems to clash with the UK’s government decision to send five suspects of terrorism to the U.S. (among them, the famous Egyptian cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, now facing 11 charges, from calling for holy war in Afghanistan to attempting to set up a terrorism training camp in Oregon.