TERRORISM suspect Abu Qatada is to be released from prison today after the government lost the latest stage of its legal battle to have him deported.
The radical cleric, who has been fighting to stay in the UK for more than a decade, yesterday won an appeal against deportation to Jordan to face trial.
In a ruling which the government immediately promised to challenge, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) allowed Qatada his appeal against the deportation move.
In a statement to MPs yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May described the ruling as “deeply unsatisfactory”.
The commission chairman, Mr Justice Mitting, granted Qatada bail and he is to be released from maximum-security prison HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire today, to return to his home.
He will be subject to a 16-hour curfew and allowed out between 8am and 4pm, with the condition he wears an electronic tag, does not use the internet and does not contact certain people.
Once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, Qatada was convicted of terrorism charges in Jordan in his absence in 1999. If he was deported, he would face a retrial for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions against Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999.
The Middle East country has given the Home Secretary assurances that no evidence gained through torture would be used against him. But in yesterday’s ruling, Siac judges said they could not be sure this would be the case. The government now plans to appeal.
Mrs May said: “Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, accused of serious crime in his home country of Jordan.
“The British government has obtained from the Jordanian government assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial. We will therefore seek leave to appeal today’s decision.”
She added: “It is deeply unsatisfactory that Abu Qatada has not already been deported to Jordan. Successive governments have tried to remove him since December 2001.
“He has a long-standing association with al-Qaeda. British courts have found that he ‘provides a religious justification for acts of violence and terror’.
“The government has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada and we will continue to do so.”
Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among extremists, featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the 11 September, 2001 bombers.
He has challenged, and thwarted, every attempt by governments over the past decade to deport him, which is thought to have cost up to £1 million.
The three Siac judges ruled that evidence from Qatada’s former co-defendants, Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher – said to have been obtained by torture – could possibly be used against him in a retrial despite assurances from the Home Secretary.
Labour home affairs select committee chairman Keith Vaz asked Mrs May to use a forthcoming visit by the King of Jordan to ask him to change his country’s legal code, “which seems to be the only obstacle to deportation”.
Tory MPs suggested that the government should simply put Qatada on a plane and deal with the legal consequences later.
Tory Bury North MP David Nuttall asked: “What would the sanctions be if we prioritised national security and simply put him on a plane?”
Wellingborough MP Peter Bone added: “I have listened to an hour of excuses as to why he can’t be deported. Just deport him and worry about the consequences later.”
But Mrs May said that if Qatada was deported, then she and any civil servant or police officer involved would be breaking the law. She said: “We need to do this within the rule of law.”