Leading article: No time for MI5 to stand in the way


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The Independent Online

Deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan was the easy option. After all, the man said to be Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Britain had already been convicted in Amman, in absentia, for his involvement in a plot to target American and Israeli tourists. With deportation facing legal obstacles in the form of a European Court of Human Rights ruling, the most pertinent questions focus on why a trial cannot go ahead in the UK.

There is certainly a prima facie case against Mr Qatada. Videos of him delivering hate sermons were found in the flat of one of the 9/11 bombers. He appeared on the BBC's Panorama programme in 2001 justifying suicide attacks. In 1995, he ruled it was Islamically lawful to kill the wives and children of apostates who had rejected Islam. His religious rulings were taken seriously by his followers: at least two convicted terrorists – shoe-bomber Richard Reid and Zacarias Moussaoui – sought advice from him. Time and again, his theology has legitimised acts of violence.

Britain has anti-terrorism laws covering a wide range of offences, including incitement. The 2000 Terrorism Act made it a specific offence to incite terrorism overseas. If the intelligence against Mr Qatada is convincing enough to hold him in prison on and off for 10 years, why can some of it not be converted into evidence that a court would find convincing?

In fact, in 2007, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission found that Mr Qatada had "given advice to many terrorist groups and individuals", concluding that the reach and the depth of his influence was "formidable, even incalculable". But the repeated claim from the Government is that Mr Qatada cannot be tried because of security service concerns.

When the same arguments were employed in 2010, at the inquest into the victims of the 7/7 London Transport bombings, they were – rightly – overridden by the coroner. The current situation, with the only option in default of a trial to release Mr Qatada on bail, is undesirable. More must be done to establish a charge of soliciting to commit murder. The sensitivities of the security services are outweighed by the need for a trial.