Preacher 'an inspiration for terror', court told

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The Independent Online

A militant cleric who preached in London was named yesterday by government lawyers as "an inspiration" for terrorists including the lead hijacker behind the 11 September attacks.

Abu Qatada, who is being held in a British high-security prison, is considered the most significant extremist Islamic preacher in Britain, according to evidence submitted on behalf of David Blunkett, the Home Secretary. Ministers claim he has close links to the al-Qa'ida network and has been "directly involved" in terrorist operations.

The allegations were contained in evidence heard yesterday in the appeal by three foreign suspects against their detention without charge or trial under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. They are the first of 10 men whose cases are due to be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in London. Fifteen men have been arrested under the new law, 13 remain in custody and some have been held for up to 18 months. Abu Qatada, who was arrested in October last year, is believed to be among the seven waiting to appeal.

In a dossier submitted on behalf of the Home Secretary, the Government singled out Abu Qatada, a Palestinian who was originally based in Jordan, for his "extensive contacts with senior terrorists worldwide".

The material said that the cleric, who has preached at the Finsbury Park mosque in north London, was "closely linked to individuals in the Osama bin Laden/al-Qa'ida network".

It also said that 18 video tapes of Abu Qatada's sermons were found in a Hamburg flat used by three of the men who hijacked the planes that crashed into the World Trade Centre, including the leader of the group, Mohammed Atta.

In evidence presented on Monday, government lawyers also named the radical preacher Abu Hamza as a "focal point" for Islamic extremists in Britain "to a lesser extent" than Abu Qatada.

The government document claimed terrorists believed that the preachings of Abu Qatada and Abu Hamza provided the religious "legitimacy" for their attacks.

The media had been barred from publishing Abu Qatada's name but Mr Justice Ouseley, who heads the three-man panel hearing the appeals, lifted the restrictions yesterday.

The Home Secretary's evidence claims that all of the suspects appealing against their continued detention "have links to extremist clerics".

"The most significant of these spiritual leaders in the UK is Abu Qatada," it said.

Ben Emmerson QC, representing three of the detainees, has criticised some of the evidence linking the men with international terrorism as "extremely tenuous". He argued that his clients have been branded as terrorists through a "wholesale misunderstanding" of their activities and their communities.