Radical preacher Abu Qatada will not be returning to Britain after being cleared of terrorism charges in Jordan, the Home Secretary has said.
Qatada, who was deported from the UK after a near-decade-long legal battle to remove him, was cleared at a military court in Jordan’s capital Amman of planning to target Israeli and American tourists and western diplomats in 2000 in the so-called “millennium plot”.
The 53-year-old, who was acquitted in June of charges relating to a foiled plan to attack an American school in Amman in 1999, has now been released from prison.
But UK coalition ministers moved to assert he would not return to Britain.
Theresa May, who headed efforts to remove Qatada from the UK, said: “The due process of law has taken place in Jordan. That is absolutely as it should be.
“The UK courts here were very clear that Abu Qatada poses a threat to our national security. That’s why we were pleased as a government to remove him from the UK.
“He is subject to a deportation order, he is also subject to a UN travel ban. That means he will not be returning to the UK.”
Qatada – once dubbed “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe” – was finally deported last year after a protracted legal battle involving successive home secretaries.
The preacher – convicted in absentia and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment by a Jordanian court in 2000 – had been granted asylum in the UK. He was stripped of his refugee status in 2002 when he was detained on suspicion of terrorism charges and in 2005 the Home Office began moves to deport him. He was finally flown out in July last year after a memorandum of understanding was signed between the UK and Jordanian governments giving assurances that he would receive a fair trial and that evidence obtained through torture would not be used.
Despite his acquittal, David Blunkett, Labour’s home secretary from 2001 to 2004, said it had been right for the government to secure his deportation.
He said the way Qatada had been able to “prevaricate” for so long meant it was “very, very much more difficult” for prosecutors to press charges successfully when he was eventually put on trial.
“He used every possible legal means to avoid being extradited from the UK. That made it much more difficult to prove the case going back to 1999, 2000,” he said. “It also proves that he was wrong because the case he made against extradition was that he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan and he clearly has.”
Earlier this month, a renowned jihadi ideologue claimed that, eight months ago, Qatada issued an appeal to Islamic State militants to release captive Briton Alan Henning. Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, who served a five-year sentence on terrorist charges in Jordan, said Qatada’s son told him the group denied holding the aid worker.
Dilwar Hussain, chairman of reform group New Horizons in British Islam, said: “Abu Qatada was deemed to be a threat to our national security so we don’t want him back in the UK.
“His views aren’t those held by ordinary British Muslims. As he’s subject to a deportation order and a travel ban, there’s no risk of him returning to Britain.
“The last thing we need is someone whose whole agenda is to set communities against each other and tell people we can’t live peacefully together. He’s as damaging to community relations as the BNP.”