Cleric 'linked to al-Qa'ida' attacks anti-terror law

War on Terrorism: British cleric
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The Independent Online

British security sources have said they are confident that Abu Qatada, who is accused by the Spanish authorities of being the spiritual head of the al-Qa'ida terrorist network in Europe, will be interned within a month once new anti-terrorism legislation comes into effect.

But yesterday Mr Qatada, a Palestinian living in London, insisted he was innocent. He said he was not afraid of being detained and condemned the Home Secretary David Blunkett's anti-terrorism Bill as a "law against law".

Speaking from his home in Acton, Mr Qatada, 40, said the new laws threatened to destroy civil liberties and insisted he was prepared to face his accusers in court.

Mr Qatada, who has four children, said he was simply a cleric who spent his time on such matters as offering marital advice, not masterminding global terrorism.

But security sources claimed they had a convincing case for internment.

A security officer said: "We're waiting to see the fine points of the new law but are confident that there'll be enough in there to detain him. There seem to be grounds to get him on suspicion to commit or support acts of terror in another country. The Spanish findings certainly provide a compelling excuse to move in on him."

Mr Qatada, who has been given a life sentence in absentia for bombings in Jordan, is alleged to have a connection with at least nine al-Qa'ida agents and he is wanted for questioning by Spanish investigators. Eighteen videos made by him were found in a Hamburg flat used by Mohammed Atta, the ring-leader of the 11 September hijackers.

Speaking though an interpreter at his home, he denied accusations by the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon that he was connected with Imad Eddin Barakac Yarkas, a cleric in Madrid, who may have helped to plot the US attacks with Mohammed Atta. He said "Spanish law is not very good" and he could not recall having met Mr Yarkas when he was shown a picture of him. "I meet all kinds of people. I can't remember everyone. I don't know who this is," he said.

But he condoned those British Muslims who are fighting with the Taliban as men who "defended their creed" and criticised the Allies' foreign policy as "meddlesome".

"As the old people say where I come from, if you see two fishes fighting in the sea, you know the British are behind it," he said. Mr Qatada denied, as he had in previous interviews, having £180,000 in a bank account which Treasury investigators froze after he was named as being on a list of 38 individuals suspecting of backing Osama bin Laden's terror network.

"Do I look like a demon? Look, I am a religious scholar, I read books," he said, pointing to the hundreds of Arabic books in the ground-floor library of his semi-detached house. "I am just a cleric for Islam. People talk to me from all over the world. My phone number is worldwide spread, people call me all the time about Islamic matters."