Qatada battle enters final stages

Home Secretary Theresa May says terror suspect Abu Qatada can be deported to Jordan

Home Secretary Theresa May says terror suspect Abu Qatada can be deported to Jordan

First published in National News © by

Terror suspect Abu Qatada is back behind bars as the 10-year battle to put him on a plane to Jordan entered its final stages.

Home Secretary Theresa May has secured assurances from Jordan that it would "bend over backwards" to ensure Qatada receives a fair trial over terror charges, a senior immigration judge said.

Just hours earlier, the radical cleric, who has been described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe, was arrested at his London home by UK Border Agency (UKBA) officers.

It marked the start of the Government's latest bid to deport Qatada, who was returned to jail after a rapidly convened court hearing found deportation was imminent and the chance of Qatada trying to abscond had increased.

The judge, Mr Justice Mitting, added: "If the parties act with great rapidity it is possible that this very long-running saga can be brought to a rapid conclusion within a matter of at most a very few weeks."

But Qatada's legal team are likely to challenge all moves to deport him and Mrs May warned MPs that it may still be "many months" before Qatada can be lawfully kicked out. Any appeal would have to be based on "narrow grounds" though, she said, and the Government was confident of its "eventual success".

Qatada was released from Long Lartin high-security jail in Evesham, Worcestershire, in February under some of the toughest bail conditions seen since the September 11 attacks.

It came after Europe's human rights judges in Strasbourg ruled that he could not be deported to Jordan without assurances that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him. But with the assurances now given by Jordan, the 51-year-old could be put on a plane lawfully, MPs were told.

If he challenges the order and it is promptly dismissed, a judicial review of the decision could be held as early as April 25, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) hearing heard.

Speaking in the Commons, Mrs May said Qatada's case "will be heard in public with civilian judges" and "his conviction in absentia will be quashed immediately" upon his return to Jordan, she added. Mrs May also said Qatada would be held in a "normal civilian detention centre" with access to independent defence lawyers.

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