London, Asharq Al-Awsat – There was an outbreak of widespread controversy in the UK following the news that the British courts had ruled that Jordanian extremist cleric Omar Mahmoud Othman, better known as Abu Qatada, must be released on bail, after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that he cannot be deported back to Jordan. Abu Qatada has been described as Osama Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and he is under worldwide embargo by the UN; he is wanted on terrorism charges in a number of countries including the US, Belgium, Spain, and his native Jordan.
British Home Secretary Theresa May stressed that the British government will continue efforts to deport the radical Muslim preacher, stressing “we will do everything we can within the existing legal regime to deport Qatada and we’re doing everything we can to reform that regime to avoid these cases in future.” Answering questions before the British House of Commons, May added that “the right place for a terrorist is a prison cell – the right place for a foreign terrorist is a foreign prison cell away from Britain.”
A spokesperson for British Prime Minister David Cameron stressed that “we are absolutely committed to protecting national security and we are going to take the necessary measures to do so. We are in no doubt that this is a dangerous man and he poses a real threat to our security. He has not changed his views or attitude to this country.” She added “it is not the end of the road. We are considering our legal options.”
However senior extremist Muslim figures in Britain have welcomed the news of Abu Qatada’s release. Egyptian Islamist Yasser Al-Sirri AKA Abu Ammar al-Masri, who is director of the London-based Islamic Observation Center, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the European Court of Human Right’s decision releasing Abu Qatada represents “a historic victory for human rights.” Al-Sirri also revealed that Abu Qatada will most likely be released next Monday, after the Home Office agreed certain conditions and requirements for his release.
A British Home Office spokesperson informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Abu Qatada’s bail will be accompanied by numerous restrictive conditions. He will not be allowed to use computers, mobile phones, and the internet, and he will also not be permitted to receive guests at his home who have not been pre-approved by the Home Office. Abu Qatada must also wear an electronic tracking device, and will not be permitted to lead or attend prayers in mosques, issue religious rulings or fatwas, or take part in any meetings. Abu Qatada will also be prohibited from leaving his home for 22 hours a day, and not be allowed to telephone or contact certain figures. This is similar to the bail conditions that were previously applied when Abu Qatada was being held under house arrest.
Sources close to the British Home Office also revealed that there is a list of 22 names, headed by now deceased Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, and also including his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Abu Musab al-Suri, the alleged mastermind behind the 7 July London bombings, who Abu Qatada is prohibited to contact.
Abu Qatada arrived in Britain in 1993 from his native Jordan allegedly using a forged United Arab Emirates passport, whereupon he claimed asylum for himself and his wife and children. He was recognized as refugee and granted leave to remain in June 1994. According to the British Home Office, Abu Qatada began to provide religious and spiritual advice to extremist groups and figures from the moment he arrived in Britain. It is claimed that Abu Qatada influenced many terrorists and terrorist organizations, including even Mohammed Atta, one of the ring-leaders of the 9/11 attacks who had a number of Abu Qatada’s videos in his Hamburg flat. Abu Qatada reportedly advised Rachid Ramda, the mastermind of the 1995 bombing of the Paris Metro, as well as Djamel Beghal, who was jailed for plotting to attack the US embassy in Paris. Abu Qatada was also said to be the “spiritual leader” of the al-Tawhid movement, which was led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who went on to become the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.
The London-based Quilliam Foundation think-tank, which describes itself as the “world’s first counter-extremism think thank” and is led by Maajid Nawaz, a British Pakistani and former member of the Islamist political group Hizb ut-Tahrir, issued a statement commenting on the release of Abu Qatada. Quilliam stressed that it “strongly disagrees with the European Court’s judgment on Abu Qatada which will now allow him to walk free” whilst acknowledging that “it is also a matter of concern that Abu Qatada has been detained for six and a half years without charge – the longest such period in history.”
Quilliam Co-Founder and Chairman, Maajid Nawaz stressed that Britain has two choices, either to “work within the legal framework available…to appeal the European court’s judgment”, or “lobby the Jordanians to guarantee a fair and transparent trial for Abu Qatada in Jordan.” He added “if neither of these two results are achieved, then Quilliam, with regret, advocates extending Abu Qatada’s restrictive bail conditions.”
Speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday, Nazaw called on the British Home Office to appeal the European Court of Human Right’s decision to release the Jordanian Islamist, or undertake diplomatic efforts to secure his transfer to Jordan.
The president of the UK’s Special Immigration Appeals Commission, Mr. Justice Mitting, ruled that Islamist cleric Abu Qatada should be freed within days, on strict bail conditions, as his deportation had previously been blocked by the European Court of Human Rights. Mr. Justice Mitting gave the British Home Secretary three months to show that British diplomats had made progress on a new deal with Jordan, after which the stringent bail conditions could be revoked. He said “if by the end of that [period], the Secretary of State is not able to put before me evidence of demonstrable progress in negotiating sufficient assurances with the government of Jordan…it’s very likely that I would consider that a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified.”