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Britain re-arrests cleric Abu Qatada

09:13 Wed Apr 18 2012

British authorities have re-arrested radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada and begun a fresh bid to deport him, saying they have resolved concerns about his treatment in Jordan.

Home Secretary Theresa May said she had received assurances from Amman that the 51-year-old, who was convicted in Jordan in his absence in 1998 of involvement in terror attacks, would have his rights respected in any retrial.

"Qatada does not belong in Britain, he belongs in Jordan, where he deserves to face justice," she told the House of Commons.

Britain has been trying since 2005 to deport Abu Qatada, who was once labelled a senior aide to late al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden by a Spanish judge and has defended killing converts to Islam and attacks on Americans.

But it has been repeatedly thwarted by the courts, and in January the European Court of Human Rights also blocked the deportation because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against Abu Qatada in Jordan.

The father of five, who has been detained in Britain for most of the past decade on accusations of terrorism, successfully appealed for bail and was released under strict conditions on February 13.

In response, the British government sought to deal with the court's concerns with assurances of fair treatment from Amman.

Prime Minister David Cameron called King Abdullah II and May herself visited Jordan last month.

On Tuesday morning, immigration officials re-arrested Abu Qatada and hours later May told MPs she believed the way was now clear to deport the cleric.

"British courts have found that Abu Qatada is a dangerous man, he is a risk to our national security and he should be deported to Jordan," she said.

"We have now obtained from the Jordanian government the material we need to comply with the ruling of the European court. I believe the assurances and the information we have gathered will mean that we can soon put Qatada on a plane and get him out of our country for good."

Abu Qatada's legal team later lodged an application for bail.

The home secretary said Jordan has assured Britain that Abu Qatada's 1998 conviction would be immediately quashed on his return, and his retrial would be heard in public with civilian judges.

Amman had also confirmed the cleric would be represented by independent lawyers and be able to summon defence witnesses and cross-examine the co-defendants from the 1998 trial, she said.

Britain had until midnight on Tuesday to appeal against the ECHR ruling, and May confirmed it would not be doing so, saying she believed the assurances offered by Amman offered the "quickest route" to removing Abu Qatada.

"This does not necessarily mean he will be on a plane to Jordan within days," she said, noting that the cleric could appeal to an immigration tribunal, which could take "many months".

But she added: "We can have confidence in our eventual success. I believe that Abu Qatada should remain in custody throughout."

The cleric, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who is also known as Omar Mohammed Othman, arrived in Britain in 1993 claiming asylum and has caused major concerns to successive British governments.

Videos of his sermons were found in the Hamburg flat used by some of the hijackers involved in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

Al-Qaeda threatened earlier this month to attack Britain if it decides to extradite Abu Qatada, saying the move would "open the gates of evil" on "Britain and its citizens everywhere."

A top Jordanian Salafist leader, Abed Shehadeh, known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, condemned Tuesday's arrest, saying: "Abu Qatada has been charged with false crimes that he had nothing to do with.

"He will be detained and tortured in Jordan."