A RADICAL Muslim cleric, once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe” by a Spanish judge, is to be released on bail in a ruling which has infuriated the Home Office.
Abu Qatada is to be released on stringent bail conditions after six and a half years fighting deportation, and almost nine years of detention without charge.
But the Home Office warned Qatada remains “a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security” and should stay behind bars.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, 51, featured in hate sermons on videos found in a Hamburg flat of one of the 11 September bombers.
Later that year, he became one of the UK’s most wanted men after disappearing as Westminster was about to introduce powers to detain foreign terrorism suspects without charge or trial.
Last night, a Home Office spokesman said: “Qatada should remain in detention, our view has not changed.
“That is the argument we made to the court today and we disagree with its decision.
“This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security and who has not changed in his views or attitude to the UK.”
He added: “We have argued for the strictest possible bail conditions to be imposed on Qatada, because this government will take all necessary measures to protect national security.
“This is not the end of the road and we are continuing to consider our legal options in response to the European Court’s ruling.”
Home Secretary Theresa May had planned to extradite him to Jordan, but was barred from doing so by judges in the European Court of Human Rights, without first gaining assurances that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him during any trial.
Mr Justice Mitting, sitting at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) yesterday, said he “cannot predict how long they [negotiations with Jordan] might take nor what their outcome might be”.
Qatada is now expected to be released next week.
The judge said it should take “between a few days and about a week” for MI5 to check the proposed bail address, which was not revealed in court, before Qatada can be released. He will then be under a house curfew and only allowed out for two hours a day, during which time he will be able to take his children to school.
Tim Eicke QC, representing the Home Secretary, said Qatada “should remain detained” but, failing that, should be subject to “the strictest possible conditions”.
Qatada was “someone who poses an unusually significant risk to the UK” and “the mere passage of time certainly hasn’t rendered it [his continued detention] unlawful”, he added.
The length of detention “has to be weighed against the risks” and “he poses a particularly serious risk to the UK”, he said.
“The Secretary of State has also taken all steps to diligently try to achieve removal and deportation as soon as possible.
“The risk he posed in May 2007 and 2008 is the risk he poses today,” Mr Eicke said, before adding that the risk Qatada may try to abscond “might well have increased” now he knows British diplomats are seeking assurances from Jordan to overcome the one obstacle which stops him from being deported.
Mr Justice Mitting also indicated that Qatada’s threat had not diminished, saying that in 2008 he “expressed very forcefully his views direct to me” and “has shown no inclination of any change in attitude”.
However, Ed Fitzgerald, QC, representing Qatada, said he should be released regardless of the risk he poses to national security.
“The detention has now gone on for too long to be reasonable or lawful and there is no prospect of the detention ending in any reasonable period,” he added. “However grave the risk of absconding, however grave the risk of further offending, there comes a point when it’s just too long.”
Qatada has spent longer in custody “than any other detainee in modern immigration history”, according to his legal team. “The period falls into a category of time that is so grave – and indeed unprecedented in the modern era – as to bear no acceptable continuing justification,” they said in a submission.
He has been held for six and a half years while fighting deportation “against a background of almost nine years’ detention without charges on the grounds of national security”, Mr Fitzgerald said, equivalent to a 17-year jail sentence.
Former home secretary David Blunkett warned Qatada was “extraordinarily dangerous and we don’t want him on our streets”.