Tuesday, June 17, 2008

British set to release "nice" terrorist because of evidence problems

Should this guy be free?

Profile: Abu Qatada

Abu Qatada
Abu Qatada, pictured in 2000

Radical cleric Abu Qatada has been variously described as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" and a "truly dangerous individual".

The Palestinian-Jordanian is to be released from prison on strict bail conditions, including a 22-hour curfew.

His release from Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire in June 2008 comes after he won a victory in April 2008 to remain in the UK when the Court of Appeal blocked his deportation to Jordan.

But the government is challenging that court move - which is based on fears that evidence gained from torture may be used in any future trials.

Qatada became one of the UK's most wanted men in December 2001 when he went on the run on the eve of government moves to introduce new anti-terror laws allowing suspects to be detained without charge or trial.

The 45-year-old father-of-five arrived in the UK in September 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport.

He was allowed to stay in June 1994 after claiming asylum for himself and his family.

He seemed very private, but always said hello in the street
Former neighbour

In the mid-1990s Abu Qatada was said to have held meetings with an MI5 officer at which he suggested his willingness to co-operate to help prevent Islamist terrorism in the UK.

But tapes of his sermons were unearthed in a Hamburg flat used by some of those responsible for the 11 September attacks on the US.

And Mr Justice Collins later said it appeared his attitude to "possible attacks in or against the interests of the UK" had changed after 11 September.

Richard Reid, the would-be mid-Atlantic Shoe bomber, and Zacarias Moussaoui, both jailed for involvement in terrorism, are said to have sought religious advice from him.

Former Home Secretary David Blunkett once described him as the most significant extremist preacher in the UK.

But Qatada has always publicly distanced himself from claims of links to al-Qaeda and insists he has never met its leader, Osama Bin Laden.

MI5 contact

In February 2001, Abu Qatada was questioned by anti-terrorism police over alleged connections to a German cell.

Abu Qatada, pictured in 2000
Abu Qatada made a video appeal in 2005 for the release of a hostage

Officers found the father-of-five in possession of £170,000 cash, including £805 in an envelope labelled "For the Mujahedin in Chechnya" but no charges were brought.

In October 2002 the authorities tracked Qatada, also known as Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, down to a council house in south London and took him to Belmarsh Prison.

He was eventually freed on bail in March 2005, but was made subject of a control order to limit his movement and contact with others.

In August he was taken back into custody pending extradition to Jordan, where he has been found guilty of terrorism offences in his absence.

In December 2005, Abu Qatada made a video appeal to the kidnappers of British peace activist Norman Kember in Iraq.

The recording, made when Qatada was in Full Sutton jail, near York, was broadcast in the Middle East.

Mr Kember later went on to donate to Qatada's bail fund, saying he had been in prison without trial for too long.

Former neighbours in Acton, west London, said Abu Qatada and his family had not lived in the area for about a year before his latest detention.

"He seemed very private, but always said hello in the street," one said. "We didn't think that Mr Abu Qatada was a radical."

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