A radical cleric once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe was back behind bars yesterday after allegedly planning to escape the country.
Abu Qatada, 47, is due before an immigration court tomorrow morning after being arrested on suspicion of breaking his bail conditions. The latest development comes just five months after the fundamentalist preacher was controversially released from prison. The Palestinian-Jordanian, who was jailed in a clampdown on terror suspects in 2002 but not charged during six years in custody, was granted bail under a strict 22-hour curfew.
But he was back in custody yesterday after UK Border Agency officials allegedly discovered he was planning to escape to the Middle East – despite having his passport taken away. At a hearing convened on Friday, a judge ruled bail should be temporarily withdrawn. Qatada was arrested on Saturday and could face being returned to prison permanently if a Home Office application is successful.
Qatada was released in June after he won an appeal against deportation to Jordan – where he has been convicted of terrorism offences in his absence – amid concerns that evidence gathered through torture could be used against him in a future trial. Ministers are appealing against the decision but the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) ruled he could be released on bail in the meantime.
The decision to free him was met with angry protests from both the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and her shadow counterpart.
Ms Smith said at the time that she was extremely disappointed, adding: "The Government's priority is to protect public safety and national security and we will take all steps necessary to do so." Meanwhile, the shadow Home Secretary Dominic Grieve added: "This man should be deported if possible. His presence is offensive. Failing deportation, he should be prosecuted."
The father-of-five was at a house under strict bail conditions. A day-long hearing before the SIAC tomorrow will look at allegations that he has breached some of these conditions.
The SIAC – which has previously described Qatada as "a truly dangerous individual" who was "heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaida" – first ruled that he could be deported because Britain had signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Amman guaranteeing that he would not be tortured. But the Court of Appeal overturned the ruling on human rights grounds.
Qatada became one of the UK's most wanted men in December 2001 when he went on the run on the eve of government moves to introduce new anti-terrorism laws allowing suspects to be detained by authorities without charge or trial.Reuse content