Britain arrests Islamist cleric over al-Qaeda ties
LONDON - Agence France-Presse
In this Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2001 file photo, Palestinian cleric Sheik Omar Mahmood Abu Omar, also known as Abu Qatada, is seen at his North London home. AP PhotoBritish authorities today arrested radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada, who is accused of ties to late al-Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, as they resumed efforts to deport him to Jordan.
The UK government has been trying to extradite the 51-year-old Jordanian since 2005 arguing that he is a threat to national security, but British and European courts have repeatedly thwarted its efforts on human rights grounds.
"UK Border Agency officers have today arrested Abu Qatada and told him that we intend to resume deportation proceedings against him," a spokesman for the Home Office, or interior ministry, said in a statement.
Abu Qatada's legal team were expected to lodge an application for bail later Tuesday at an immigration tribunal in central London, judicial officials said.
The father of five, who claimed asylum in Britain in 1993, has been detained in Britain on anti-terror allegations for much of the last decade, and authorities have spent most of that trying to send him back to Jordan.
He was convicted in the kingdom of Jordan in absentia of involvement in terror attacks in 1998, and faces a retrial on his return, but his deportation has been blocked by concerns about his treatment there.
In January, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg ruled that there was a "real risk" that evidence obtained through torture may be used against Abu Qatada during his retrial.
The cleric's lawyers subsequently appealed for his release, arguing that his continued detention was no longer lawful or reasonable, and on February 6 a British judge ordered he be set free under strict bail conditions.
But Britain vowed to continue its efforts to remove Abu Qatada and last month Home Secretary Theresa May visited Jordan to seek assurances on torture evidence that would allay the European court's concerns.
May was due to give a statement to parliament later Tuesday, the final day that Britain could appeal against the European court's judgement.
Abu Qatada, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin who is also known as Omar Mohammed Othman, was once labelled Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe by a Spanish judge and has caused major concerns to successive British governments.
In 1995 the cleric defended killing converts from Islam, their wives and children in Algeria, and four years later he made a sermon in London calling for the killing of Jews and praising attacks on Americans.
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, telling AFP: "I have advised him (Abu Qatada) do his best to avoid deportation.
"Abu Qatada has been charged with false crimes that he had nothing to do with. He will be detained and tortured in Jordan."