Cleric Faces Deportation to Jordan

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 27, 2007

LONDON, Feb. 26 -- A British court ruled Monday that Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic cleric believed to have close links to al-Qaeda, faces no risk of abuse if sent to Jordan, opening the way for his deportation.

"We have concluded that there is no real risk of persecution," a special immigration court said, noting that Jordan had signed a memorandum affirming that Abu Qatada's human rights would be upheld.

The case of Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, had been closely watched by rights groups and terrorism analysts. Past attempts to deport terrorism suspects to countries accused of torture had been blocked on human rights grounds.

The decision was lauded by British authorities, who have argued that radicals -- often fugitives from justice in their homelands -- have been using Britain as a base, knowing it would be difficult to deport them because of human rights laws.

The government had accused Abu Qatada of offering "spiritual advice and religious legitimacy" to extremists planning terrorist attacks. His taped sermons were found in the apartment in Hamburg used by several of the men involved in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Home Secretary John Reid welcomed the court decision.

"It is our firm belief that these agreements strike the right balance between allowing us to deport individuals who threaten the security of this country and safeguarding the rights of these individuals on their return," Reid said, referring to the memorandum signed by Jordan.

"This is a very significant decision," said M.J. Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based security research organization. He said radicals and fugitives here are "abusing the privileges" of the government, even living on government subsidies, while they "propagate hate."

Gohel said Abu Qatada's "legacy for European terrorism is profound and perhaps everlasting -- practically a Who's Who list of terrorism had a connection to him."

Abu Qatada has been convicted twice in absentia in Jordan and sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting to bomb Jewish and American sites. He is on the U.S. government list of terrorism suspects. British authorities said he had links to Richard C. Reid, the British citizen who tried to blow up an American jetliner in December 2001 with explosives hidden in his shoes, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Sept. 11 attackers.

Abu Qatada was taken into custody in 2002 under emergency laws passed by the British government following the Sept. 11 attacks. British officials sought to deport him to Jordan, but because of laws that prohibit sending people to a country where they could face mistreatment or the death penalty, the government held Abu Qatada and 10 other men without charge.

The emergency anti-terrorism procedures led human rights activists to describe Belmarsh prison, where the men were detained, as "Britain's Guantanamo," a reference to the U.S. military detention facility in Cuba.

After spending 2 1/2 years in prison, Abu Qatada was freed but put under "control orders," a type of house arrest.

Abu Qatada, who has denied supporting terrorism, argues that he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan.

His attorney, Gareth Peirce, said she would appeal the ruling. She said there is no way to ensure that Jordan will uphold the agreement and "no sanction if it is breached."

Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the court decision, saying there is "ample evidence" that Abu Qatada now risks being subjected to repeated beatings, as well as "being burned with cigarettes, and being threatened with extreme violence including rape."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company