With court proceedings under way against Abu Qatada within just hours of his plane touching down in Jordan, the Government in Britain wasted no time in celebrating the radical cleric’s deportation as the beginning of a fresh assault on what it sees as troublesome human rights legislation.
Greeted by a large convoy of masked anti-terrorism police in Amman on Sunday, the 53-year-old radical cleric was escorted in a 12-vehicle cavalcade to the military State Security Court on the outskirts of the capital.
There, as his family, including his father Mahmoud, waited outside, Abu Qatada – whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman – appeared before the court to face charges relating to an al-Qa’ida inspired plot against an American school in Amman and an alleged attack on Israeli and US tourists. “My son is innocent and I hope the court will set him free,” Abu Qatada’s father told reporters.
Last night he was transferred to the Muwaqar I, in Amman’s south-eastern industrial suburb of Sahab, a state-of-the-art prison with sports facilities and a library, designed to allay British concerns about his treatment.
Prosecutors said he would be detained there for 15 days, pending further questioning.
The father-of-five – dubbed Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe – had been escorted on to a plane at RAF Northolt, west London, under the cover of darkness yesterday morning before his flight back to Jordan.
Clad in robes and a headscarf and flanked by four officers from Scotland Yard’s Extradition Unit, he was photographed taking a last look at the UK out the window as the plane taxied away.
Abu Qatada had frustrated successive governments’ attempts to deport him for almost a decade. Ministers made no secret of their jubilation yesterday at finally ridding themselves of a man who cost taxpayers more than £1.7m to deport.
The case, which stalled when the European Court of Human Rights prevented Qatada’s deportation back to Jordan on the grounds that he would face trial based on evidence obtained under torture, has led to a gaping chasm between Strasbourg and right-wing politicians.
The Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said that any Tory government would advocate withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, adding: “A future Conservative government with a majority will make wholesale changes to human rights laws.” Currently Belarus is the only European country not bound by the convention.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, said the Government had honoured its vow to rid the country of Abu Qatada, adding: “It is an issue that has made my blood boil that it took so long and was so difficult to deport him, but we have done it – he is back in Jordan, and that is excellent news”.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary who vowed Abu Qatada would be on a plane 15 months ago, said the Government had been “vindicated”.
“We have at last achieved what previous governments, Parliament and the British public have long called for,” she said. “This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country.”
But in the run-down neighbourhood of Amman where his family lives, locals remained supportive of Abu Qatada. “He didn’t participate in any violent act,” said a friend, Marwan Shahedeh.