Abu Qatada, the controversial Muslim cleric deported from the UK for his extremist views, states that beheading of journalists are against Islamic teachings. Speaking from his courtroom cell in Jordan, he told journalists: “Messengers should not be killed,” quoting the prophet Muhammad. The Salafist preacher has been in Jordan since last July, deported from the UK and detained awaiting retrial on two decade-old terrorism charges. The cleric, once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, is influential among Jordanian Salafists, who follow his statements on Syria, Iraq and extremist groups issued from behind bars.
Abu Qatada’s wife and five children left their taxpayer funded home in north-west London and were driven to Heathrow Airport by officials from the Home Office just after lunchtime. They then boarded the 5.05pm American Airlines flight to Amman, where Qatada is currently awaiting trial of terrorism charges.
The family’s departure signals a victory for the Home Office, which successfully secured Qatada’s deportation from Britain last month, following a decade long legal battle, which is estimated to have cost the taxpayer in excess of £3 million. A spokesman for the Home Office confirmed that the family had left and said they had also abandoned their bid to be granted the right to live here permanently. Sources said the Home Secretary would also use the powers available to her to prevent the family from returning to Britain in the future.
Members of the extremist English Defence League had also held protests against the family’s continued presence in the UK. In a letter to an Islamic website, one of Qatada’s sons recently wrote: “Racist pressure groups in Britain hold demonstrations outside the house on a weekly basis between four in the afternoon and eleven in the evening. These demonstrators would scream and curse at us and at Islam.”
Abu Qatada will be able to preach while incarcerated, prison officials said at the Muwaqqar facility where the firebrand preacher is currently being held. Inmates are referred to as guests, “like we’re talking about a hotel where we provide them with services,” say staff at Jordan’s smartest prison, the Muwaqqar Rehabilitation and Correctional Center. “It is better for him here than in Britain” said Abd al Hamid Gamil AlKafawin, one of the prison officials. “Here he is treated just like any other guest, and has no restrictions imposed on him.” He is also allowed visits by his family three times a week; on Tuesday his mother and 8 of his siblings visited Abu Qatada, though they could only communicate by telephone from behind a glass screen.
Contrary to initial reports that he would be kept in solitary confinement, Abu Qatada is sharing a cell with 15 inmates. His cell, furnished by 12 bunk beds lining the walls, can accommodate up to 26. Many of the 950 inmates, including his current cellmates, are doing time for the same crime Abu Qatada is charged with; crimes against state security. If sentenced, Abu Qatada would remain here and be able to teach inmates, say prison officials. Although the position of sheikh is currently filled, the Salafist preacher is bound to find a keen following. Such a position would be paid; teaching is but one of several occupations available to inmates. Others include carpentry and agriculture.
The Adaleh Center for Human Rights, which the British government has appointed to oversee his wellbeing, visited the facility twice last year.
Abu Qatada’s family said on Monday they expected to have him home within days and expressed their hopes court proceedings against the controversial cleric would progress smoothly so he could soon return to normal life. Close friends claimed the decade-long fight to deport Qatada from Britain is unlikely to end in a jail term, and said in their opinion he would almost certainly be cleared by the Jordanian courts.
His was twice convicted in absentia for conspiring to engage in terrorist activities in Jordan, and courts there sentenced him to life imprisonment. The same charges were repeated at the State Security Court on Sunday, where Qatada denied all allegations. His co-conspirators were sentenced and later pardoned by the king. It is this precedent which makes Abu Hanieh optimistic his friend will be freed. The exclusion of evidence obtained under torture, the prerequisite for Qatada’s return to Jordan, is another reason. “It’s usual to get evidence by torture here,” said Abu Hanieh, who has been imprisoned many times.
Radical cleric Abu Qatada has appeared in court in Jordan after being deported from the UK. His plane left RAF Northolt at 02:46 BST for his home country, where he was formally charged with terror offences, which he denies. Prime Minister David Cameron said he was “delighted” at his removal. Abu Qatada was first arrested in the UK over alleged terror connections in 2001. He was rearrested in 2005, when attempts to deport him began. The Palestinian-Jordanian cleric’s deportation was finally able to proceed after the UK and Jordan signed a treaty agreeing that evidence obtained through torture would not be used against him.
Home Secretary Theresa May said she was glad that the government’s determination to remove him had been “vindicated”. “This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country,” she said. She added that she wanted to streamline such deportation processes in future. “I am also clear that we need to make sense of our human rights laws and remove the many layers of appeals available to foreign nationals we want to deport.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Mrs May said she had been provided with updates on the deportation throughout the night and that she had been “as frustrated as the public” about the estimated £1.7m cost and length of time it had taken to remove Abu Qatada, but that people would welcome the end result.
There was tight security as Abu Qatada arrived back in Jordan – where he grew up – for the first time in more than 20 years. He was immediately driven from Marka airbase to the state security court – a journey that would have taken just a few minutes. After the hearing his lawyer Tayseer Diab said: “The attorney general interrogated him today, and he directed a series of accusations towards him – he accused him of conspiracy to take part in terrorist acts. My client denied all the allegations, and he asserts that his return to Jordan was out of his own free will, in order to be with his family. The procedure was carried out well, and he received good treatment.”
Asked whether Abu Qatada’s wife and children would have the right to stay in the UK, Mrs May said they would have to decide what they want their future to be before the government gets involved.
The voluntary departure from Britain of Omar Othman, better known as Abu Qatada, is a triumph for the independence of the judiciary over this and previous governments’ high-profile attempts to send him to face a trial in Jordan, where the evidence against him was obtained by torture. Our judiciary has safeguarded a prominent political refugee who our society chose to persecute in a disgraceful way.
Since 2007 as many as 12 senior British judges in various courts have recognised the torture origins of the evidence against him, which successive prime ministers and home secretaries have, until a few weeks ago, publicly put all their political weight into ignoring. The US, aided by the UK, on behalf of its key ally Jordan, went so far as to kidnap UK residents Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi on a business trip in Africa, torture them in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and take them to Guantánamo in order to interrogate them about Othman. When those men sued the British authorities for what they had done, parliament was persuaded to create secret courts to adjudicate on secret defences.
The British judges’ success is that the Jordanian government has now made a change in its law that applies only to Othman and no one else. In his case the burden of proof is now on the prosecutor to show that any statement made against him in court was not produced by torture or any other form of ill-treatment – a reversal of the previous situation. In addition, his safety in Jordan is enormously enhanced by the new conditions agreed, which include his detention in a civilian facility, the exclusion of the Jordanian intelligence service from any access to him, monitoring by an independent human rights body, and a commitment that Britain will be contacted if there are concerns.
But the most recent phase of this long saga has left poison in our society. The home secretary, prime minister, mayor of London, countless MPs – including senior Labour party figures – have led the media in reckless and prejudiced comments, making Othman the most demonised individual in Britain.
The mantra of the home secretary, Theresa May, that “this is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist”, has been repeated so often that the facts have been forgotten. No one suggests Othman is physically dangerous himself. No one has charged him with anything, except the Jordanians with the torture-tainted evidence. No one has pointed to anything controversial that he is alleged to have said since the mid-1990s. At that time he aligned himself with Islamic revolutionary movements opposing regimes that have now fallen, or which barely cling to power.
Our security services and politicians turned this man into an Islamic counter-terrorism myth. If instead they had chosen to talk to him, as I have many times, they would have found that the man behind the myth is a scholar with wide intellectual and cultural interests. He wrote books while he was in prison. His home is filled with books. His children have excelled at school, with help and encouragement from his daily phone calls from prison.
I have been a friend of Othman’s wife and daughters for some years, and have had many opportunities to talk to him in prison and when he was at home on bail. I’ve been struck by his dignity and lack of bitterness over his family’s treatment, and I believe that, rather than being scapegoated, his moral standards could have been useful in engaging Muslim youth and healing the wounds in our divided society.
The Home Office’s long legal duel with the radical cleric Abu Qatada has cost taxpayers £1,716,306, Theresa May has told MPs. The figure includes £647,658 in legal aid for the terror suspect and more than £1m in government costs, the home secretary disclosed in a letter to the all-party Commons home affairs committee. But the overall bill would have been nearer £2m if more than £200,000 had not been used from Abu Qatada’s frozen assets, according to officials. The bill, run up since 2005, was revealed as the formalities were being finalised for a legal treaty with Jordan which would allow Abu Qatada’s deportation. Ministers are hoping this can be ratified at Westminster by next Friday and the cleric put on a plane as soon as possible afterwards. Home secretaries have been trying for years to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he was convicted in his absence in 1999 of terror charges related to bomb attacks. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission previously heard that a USB stick understood to belong to Abu Qatada’s eldest son contained “jihadist files” made by the “media wing of al-Qaida”.
The Jordanian parliament has approved a treaty with the UK designed to trigger the removal of radical cleric Abu Qatada, the Home Office has said. The agreement, unveiled by Home Secretary Theresa May in April, aims to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the terror suspect at a retrial. The agreement has been approved by both houses of the Jordanian parliament but must still be signed off by the country’s King Abdullah. The UK Government expects the treaty to be ratified in Britain by June 21.
Extremist Islamist leaders preached to crowds of students at almost 200 official events at universities including Cambridge in the past year, a study has revealed. Segregation at student events has become a widespread trend at many UK universities, a student equality group claims. Radical preachers spoke at universities including Cardiff and University College London (UCL) over the last year. Research found that segregated seating for men and women was promoted or implied at more than a quarter of the events, at 21 separate institutions, despite university rules forbidding it. Some of the speakers have a history of misogyny, promoting violence against homosexuals and advocating jihad against non-Muslims, as a new generation of extremist speakers inspired by radical clerics such as Abu Qatada tour campuses to spread their version of Islam. Anthony Glees, an intelligence and security expert consulted by the All-Party Parliamentary Homeland Security Group, said: “Clearly, there’s a failing in our higher education system. Student Rights, which was set up to tackle extremism on campuses and carried out the research, said universities were failing to provide students with work and study environments that are free from discrimination and harassment. The organisation said that universities were failing in the responsibilities to tackle discrimination, and called for better communication of policies and a closer monitoring of events to ensure that discrimination does not occur.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper welcomes the news Abu Qatada could return to Jordan, saying: “We all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done.” The Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada will return to Jordan voluntarily when the Jordanian parliament ratifies a deal with Britain that ensures he will receive a fair trial, the cleric’s lawyer told a London court on Friday. Abu Qatada’s pledge is a victory for the British government after nearly eight years of unsuccessful attempts to deport the cleric, who is accused of spreading radical ideas that once inspired one of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers.
Courts have repeatedly blocked deportation on the grounds that a trial in Jordan of Abu Qatada, whose real name is Mohammed Othman, risked being tainted by the use of evidence obtained using torture.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This could be very good news if it means Abu Qatada returns to Jordan as soon as possible – as we all agree he should stand fair trial there so justice can be done. Abu Qatada should have made this decision a long time ago as this legal process has dragged on far too long. We will watch the next steps closely until he departs, but I hope this saga can now be brought to an end.”
If the Home Secretary wins her battle to deport Abu Qatada, it will be based on the assumption that he will not be abused. In Amman, Enjoli Liston hears from those who have strong reasons to doubt it. Abdullah Mahhaden was arrested around four hours after he managed to escape from a police crackdown on an anti-government protest in Amman on 31 March 2012. The demonstration had been calling for the release of seven activists. The 25 year-old accountant-turned-activists had wanted to make his voice heard. He ended up at the city’s main police station, where he says he was beaten by as many as 20 police officers. “I was the last one to get caught that night,” Mahhaden told The Independent. “The police started asking me, ‘Why were you demonstrating? How did you know about the demonstration? Who organised it?’ I said, ‘I forget’, so they beat me. The Home Secretary, Theresa May, said this week the Government had signed a mutual assistance treaty with Jordan, complete with new assurances on fair trials, to ensure Abu Qatada can be deported even if the Government’s latest appeal to the Supreme Court is blocked. Hossam al-Kaid, from Aleppo, who studied law in Syria, also works in Amman and agrees: “In Jordan, there is a fear of people like Abu Qatada.” He says he would rather the radical cleric stay in the UK, but if he were to be sent back to Jordan, he believes he would receive a fair trial. Human rights advocates continue to claim otherwise. “Jordanian law already proscribes torture and the use of confessions obtained under duress, yet judges routinely accept these confessions,” says Adam Coogle, Middle East researcher for Human Rights Watch. The organisation has in the past both praised the Jordanian government for its openness towards investigating human rights abuses in prisons, and criticised its insistence on paying little attention to the results of the investigations. Many Jordanians believe Abu Qatada should remain in the UK. “If England gives back Abu Qatada, it is like a gift for the Jordanian government,” he says. “It is like the English government sending a message to the world that it has ensured that there is no torture in Jordan. And that is not the truth.”