Terror suspect cleric granted bail
Abu Qatada, a radical Jordanian cleric who has been in UK detention for six-and-a-half years awaiting deportation, has been granted bail despite being considered a serious risk to national security.
The decision – handed down at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on Monday – stipulated that Mr Qatada will be subject to strict bail conditions when he is released from Long Lartin in Worcestershire, a high-security prison. He has been described in UK and Spanish courts as a key al-Qaeda operator in Europe.
Mr Qatada’s lawyers applied for his release after a ruling last month by the European Court of Human Rights, saying the UK could not deport him to Jordan because of the risk that evidence gained through torture would be used to bring charges against him. His release on bail threatens to stir up criticism from eurosceptics that Strasbourg judges are threatening the primacy of UK lawmakers and putting citizens’ security at risk.
Mr Justice Mitting, the SIAC judge, said Mr Qatada should be released within a week. The Home Office said he will be under a 22-hour curfew and will not be allowed access to the internet or any other communications. Visitors to his house will also need to be approved.
Mr Qatada’s defence counsel, Ed Fitzgerald QC, had told the court that his client’s detention had gone on too long to be “reasonable or lawful” and that given the European decision that he could not be deported, there was no prospect of the detention ending “in any reasonable period”.
“However the risk of absconding, however the risk of further offending, there comes a point when it’s just too long,” Mr Fitzgerald said. In a written submission, he added that the six-and-a-half year imprisonment was “so grave – and indeed unprecedented in the modern era – as to bear no acceptable continuing justification”.
But Tim Eicke QC, acting for the home secretary, said he did not accept that Mr Qatada’s detention was unlawful and argued that the cleric presented a “particularly serious risk to the UK”.
“The secretary of state has also taken all steps to diligently try to achieve removal and deportation as soon as possible,” Mr Eicke added.
Responding to Monday’s decision, the Home Office insisted that it was “not the end of the road” and the government was reviewing its legal options in light of the Strasbourg ruling.
“This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security and who has not changed in his views or attitude to the UK,” it said.
Mr Qatada, who also goes by the name Omar Othman, has been convicted by Jordan twice in absentia for terror offences.