The UK’s highest court Wednesday ordered that the man known as Osama bin Laden’s spiritual ambassador to Europe be deported to Jordan, despite claims that he faces torture, local media have reported.
The court also ordered that two Algerians, known only as “RB” and “U,” be deported to Algeria. Radical cleric Abu Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, has been engaged in a long-running campaign to remain in the UK since he arrived 16 years ago. UK ministers have described Qatada as an “inspiration” for terrorists such as Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker behind the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. The government has claimed that he is a national security risk who fundraised for terrorist groups, including organizations linked to bin Laden; and that he publicly supported the violent activities of those groups. Qatada has denied the allegations. It is expected that he will appeal the decision to the European Court of Human Rights. Welcoming the judgment, UK interior minister Jacqui Smith said: “I’m delighted with the Lords’ decision today in the cases of Abu Qatada and the two Algerians ‘RB and U’. It highlights the threat these individuals pose to our nation’s security and vindicates our efforts to remove them. “My top priority is to protect public safety and ensure national security and I have signed Abu Qatada’s deportation order which will be served on him today. I am keen to deport this dangerous individual as soon as I can.” Qatada came to the UK on a forged United Arab Emirates passport in 1993, according to court documents, and claimed asylum for himself, his wife, and their three children. The UK government recognized him as a refugee and allowed him to stay in the country until 1998. Qatada applied to stay indefinitely, but while his application was pending, a Jordanian court convicted him in absentia for involvement in two 1998 terrorist attacks and a plot to plant bombs to coincide with the millennium. By 2002 the UK government said it suspected Qatada was a terrorist and a national security risk. Refusing him leave to stay in Britain, it ordered he be deported and detained him. Last June a three-judge appeals panel freed Qatada under strict bail conditions, including fitting him with an electronic monitoring tag and ordering that he stay at home for 22 hours each day.
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The panel said there was no reason to continue holding him but that he presented a “continuing and significant” threat. The deportation decision Wednesday by the Law Lords followed the government’s appeal against that decision. But human rights group Amnesty International said it was “gravely concerned” by the consequences of the decision. “What is not acceptable is to use suspicion of involvement in terrorism to justify sending someone to face a real risk of torture or other serious violations of their rights,” said Nicola Duckworth, Europe and Central Asia Programme Director at Amnesty International, in a statement. “If these individuals in question are reasonably suspected of having committed a criminal offence relating to terrorism, it is always open to the UK authorities to charge them and give them a fair trial. “It would be deeply worrying if the Law Lords’ decision were to be taken by the UK government as a green light to push ahead with deporting people to countries where they will be at risk of abuses such as torture and unfair trials.” Duckworth also said that diplomatic assurances from the governments of Algeria and Jordan about the suspects safety, were “completely unenforceable and as such cannot be relied upon.”