Qatada sent home with electronic tag after six years in jail

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The Independent Online

Abu Qatada, the Islamist preacher known as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe" was released from prison last night.

The Palestinian-Jordanian preacher, who was jailed in a clampdown on terror suspects in 2002 but not charged during his six years in custody, was granted bail under the terms of a strict 22-hour curfew. Last month he won an appeal against his deportation to Jordan amid concerns that evidence gained from torture could be used against him in a future trial.

Qatada was hidden from view, under a blanket in the back seat as he was driven at speed out of Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire at around 8.20pm.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said: "I am extremely disappointed that the courts have granted Abu Qatada bail, albeit with very strict conditions.

"I am appealing to the House of Lords to reverse the decision that it is not safe to deport Qatada and the other Jordanian cases."

She added: "The Government's priority is to protect public safety and national security and we will take all steps necessary to do so."

The comments came after Mr Justice Mitting signed an order to release Qatada on bail following a decision bythe Court of Appeal to deny the Government the ability to deport the cleric on human rights grounds. The judge was on the Special Immigration Appeals Commission which has described Qatada as "a truly dangerous individual" who was "heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qa'ida".

Qatada, 47, will be forced to wear an electronic tag. He will be barred from holding meetings or making contact with any of his alleged acquaintances, including bin Laden.

Unusually, the bail document also bans Qatada from attending "any mosque", and "providing religious instruction" to anyone except his wife and children.

Last night the cleric arrived at his home in Acton, west London, where he will be barred from using the internet and mobile phones.

In 2001, a Spanish judge described Qatada as bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe".

The Conservatives reacted with anger at the release last night. The shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, said: "This man should be deported if possible. His presence is offensive. Failing deportation, he should be prosecuted."

Mr Grieve, who replaced David Davis this week after the latter resigned to fight a by-election on civil liberties, urged the Government to press ahead with tougher measures. "This is why we have called on the Government to allow the use of intercept evidence – so they have every weapon possible to prosecute these individuals," he added.

In a second blow to anti-terrorism legislation introduced after the September 11 attacks on New York, a Muslim woman who called herself the "lyrical terrorist" had her conviction quashed when prosecutors conceded that the case against her was unsafe.

Samina Malik, 24, a former Heathrow worker who wrote extremist poems, was found guilty in November of collecting information likely to be useful to those preparing for a terrorism act. She was later given a suspended nine-month prison sentence.

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal in London ruled that "there is a very real danger that the jury became confused and that ... this conviction is unsafe".

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, explained an offence would be committed under the Terrorism Act only if a document was likely to provide practical assistance to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.

Preacher's bail conditions

* Banned from holding any meetings and specifically barred from having any direct or indirect contact with a large number of terror suspects, including Osama bin Laden and his deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri.

* Monitored by police by a tagging device.

* Banned from using internet, computers and mobile phones or holding more than one bank account.

* Subject to police searches of his home and its premises at any point and photographing by police at their will.

* Confined to his home 22 hours per day, able to leave for two hours only when he must to stay within a small area defined by the court.

* Banned from receiving visitors, except for his wife, children, a doctor, a lawyer and other children under 10 years of age unless senior government officials give permission.