The radical cleric, Abu Qatada, is denied bail by an immigration judge as Home Secretary Theresa May announces his deportation will take place following “assurances” from Jordan.
The 51-year-old was arrested by officials at his London home by officials from the UK Border Agency on Tuesday morning, hours before an announcement by the home secretary in which she said she had received assurances from King Abdullah of Jordan that evidence gained through torture will not be used in his terror trial.
This means that he can now be deported, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in January that deportation would be illegal if such evidence were to be used at his trial. The Strasbourg-based court found that sending Qatada back without such assurances would be a “flagrant denial of justice”.
However his departure could take weeks, months or even years, with his lawyers expected to appeal against the decision.
Qatada was refused bail at a hearing of the Special Immigration and Appeals Commission, at which Robert Tam QC for the Home Secretary, said that he “continues to have a high standing among extremists, with wide and high-level support”.
Ms May told the House of Commons earler: “For more than 10 years, successive governments have sought to deport Qatada to Jordan, because of the serious risk he poses to our national security. He has a longstanding association with al-Qaeda, he has been linked to several terrorist plots, and he has been found guilty in absentia in Jordan of terrorist offences.
“Since January, the prime minister has discussed Qatada’s deportation with King Abdullah. I have been to Jordan and held meetings with the King, the Prime Minister and several other ministers…The result is that we now have the material we need to satisfy the courts and to resume deportation.”
But she added: “Deportation might still take time – the proper processes must be followed and the rule of law must take precedence – but today Qatada has been arrested and the deportation process is underway.”
The ongoing case has raised several questions over deportation procedures. Labour MP, Keith Vaz, chair of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said that a “fast-track” system to deport the most dangerous terror suspects needed to be established at a meeting of 47 European member nations later this week.
Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998. That conviction will now be quashed ahead of a re-trial.
He was released from Long Lartin high-security jail in Evesham, Worcestershire, on 13 February after applying for bail following the ECHR ruling.
The SIAC court was told by Mr Tam that the Jordanian court system now ruled evidence obtained by torture as “inadmissible”, and that civilian judges sitting in the country’s state security court ensured that it is “sufficiently independent”.
Qatada’s lawyers argued at the tribunal that moves to deport him were based on “a series of unsubstantiated claims”, disputing home office assertions that there had been changes to the Jordanian constitution over the use of torture. Edward Fitzgerald QC added that Qatada would seek to revoke any deportation order, and would appeal if unsuccessful. “They [the home office] have given no notice of this matter and there are a number of questions arising of the legality of further detention,” he said.
Civil rights organisation, Liberty, welcomed the development. Director Shami Chakrabarti said: “Since the Court of Human Rights ruled that Abu Qatada should not be sent to Jordan for trial based on torture, the Home Secretary faced many calls to deport him and flout the law.
“Shame on them. She has not courted popularity by doing this and has recognised there will be new legal scrutiny of the latest assurances that she has obtained from that country.
“Credit must go where it is due and it is due to the home secretary today. We don’t always agree on the application of human rights, but she seems to understand that if the government does not respect the rule of law, why should anyone else?”