LONDON — Judges in Britain have upheld an appeal made by terror suspect Abu Qatada against his extradition to Jordan. Qatada is an Islamist preacher who has been described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe.
The British judges said his extradition would be wrong because evidence obtained by torture might be used against him if he were sent to Jordan.
The British government condemned the decision and said it would appeal. Britain’s home secretary, Teresa May, had been assured by Jordan that no evidence obtained by torture would be used against Qatada, but a panel of judges decided a fair trial could not be assured.
Qatada claimed asylum in Britain in 1993. Jordan convicted him in absence on terror charges and he now is wanted for a re-trial, accused of conspiring to carry out terror attacks on Western and Israeli targets.
“It's a huge blow for the Home Office and the UK government because it further frustrates decade-long attempts by the UK government to actually deport Abu Qatada,” said Valentina Soria, a counter-terrorism and security expert at the Royal United Services Institute in London.
Qatada has been in and out of British prisons for the past decade. Now he is expected to be released from prison on bail on Tuesday, but with tight restrictions on his movements and communication.
Soria said that because of those restrictions, she does not think Qatada will pose a continued risk. But she said his release is still significant.
“He continues to be seen as a symbolic figure among jihadist[s] in the extremist circle, so at the end of the day it is the symbolic value of this situation, which will be more relevant,” said Soria.
Qatada has never been charged in Britain, and Soria said it is unlikely that charges will be brought here.
The Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric was once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe. He also has been described as the spiritual leader of the mujahedeen.
Jordan’s acting information minister, Nayef al-Fayez, said his government shares the British government’s “disappointment and concern” over Monday’s ruling.