Arifa Akbar: The day I went for tea with Britain's public enemy No. 1

Share
Related Topics

Sheikh Abu Qatada let me into his home because I was a fellow Muslim. I spoke to his wife, saying Salaam a'laikum to her from the other side of the door of their slightly shabby terraced house in Acton. A few moments later a man led me into a sitting room with the curtains firmly drawn against the street outside, which was teeming with reporters and cameramen.

Back then, in the weeks after the 11 September 2001 attacks, Qatada, his wife and their young children dancing around inside were not to know that he would shortly be arrested, imprisoned and held for much of the next decade without charge, suspected by intelligence sources of being al-Qa'ida's London-based fixer.

The room was cluttered and basic, with low-lying cushions along one side instead of a sofa. The man who had opened the door turned out to be a translator, who sat down on the carpet beside Abu Qatada, a burly man in a white robe, his face more cherubic than it has since become. He looked like a bookish cleric, with tomes lining his living room walls. He was incredibly courteous to both myself and the photographer, offering us tea and bringing in a chair. It was a warm welcome.

One of his four children – a cute little boy with no shirt on, wandered into the room, eager to be by his father, before he was gently ushered out again. It was most likely his then seven-year-old son, Qatada, who will now be 18.

Abu Qatada talked in Arabic, calm at first, but then loudly, urgently and with passion, interrupting his translator with more thoughts and exclamations at the end of each answer. He seemed impatient to be understood. He said, again and again, that he had been abjectly misquoted and misrepresented by the British press.

The conversation lasted at least an hour. He was strangely open, speaking of his outrage at being accused of being the "European ambassador" for Osama bin Laden and for being labelled a suspected terrorist – but also of other more domestic matters. He told me he had only £624 in his bank, that he was renting his home and feared eviction, and that he was looking to sell his car to anyone who would buy it for £700.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Joinery Shop Foreman

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Joinery Shop Foreman is required to join a p...

Recruitment Genius: Bench Joiner

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Bench Joiner is required to join a privately...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Manchester

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Recruitment and Sales People wanted f...

Recruitment Genius: Multi Skilled Engineer - Electrical / Mechanical / Maintenance

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A multi-skilled engineer with a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For the sake of the millions of girls who miss vital schooling during their periods, we must dismantle the 'menstrual taboo'

Emily Wilson Smith
 

Rick Santorum’s presidential bid isn’t funny, it’s terrifying

Sirena Bergman
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada