Accessibility links

Breaking News

Britain One-Step Closer to Expelling Radical Muslim Cleric

Britain's highest court has cleared the way for the expulsion of radical Muslim cleric, Abu Qatada. Authorities say the cleric has strong links to al-Qaida and they want to send him back to Jordan.

Britain's highest appeals court, the Law Lords has overturned a lower-court ruling against deportation. This paves the way for the government to send Abu Qatada back to Jordan, where he has been convicted on terrorism charges.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, came to Britain in the early 1990s and was granted political asylum. He is accused of having strong links to al-Qaida and has been labeled as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man" in Europe.

British authorities say Abu Qatada has links to a variety of extremist groups, including in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. They say he is a threat to public security.

Britain's home secretary, Jacqui Smith, said the government welcomes the Law Lords' decision.

"This is something that we have been working on for a long time. I have now, given this ruling, signed the deportation order early this morning, which will be served on him [Abu Qatada] later today. My priority is the safety of this country and I want him removed as quickly as possible," said Smith.

The government was previously unable to deport Abu Qatada because his lawyers said he would face torture in Jordan. Britain has signed a memorandum of understanding with Jordan that, authorities say, provides assurances that those who are sent back will not be mistreated.

Human rights groups disagree. Speaking on British television, Tom Porteus, London director of Human Rights Watch, said such non-binding agreements are meaningless. He also took issue with the Law Lords ruling.

"The ruling fundamentally undermines the global ban on torture and it sends a message not only to the British government, but to governments around the world that they can send individuals back to countries where they are at serious risk of torture," he said.

Abu Qatada could now appeal the Law Lords ruling before the European Court of Human Rights. The British government says it would strongly argue against that, but human-rights groups say such an appeals process could hold up the cleric's deportation. Abu Qatada has been in and out of jail in Britain and is currently behind bars.