Extremist cleric Abu Qatada to return to Jordan voluntarily
Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada, also known as Omar Mahmoud Othman, will voluntarily go back to Jordan if and when its parliament ratifies a new deportation treaty with Britain, his lawyers have said.
The disclosure is a major breakthrough for Home Secretary Theresa May in the battle to deport the international terror suspect, who was described by a British judge as at the centre of Al Qaeda terror-related activities in the UK.
The treaty with the Jordanians, which is designed to ensure he will face a fair trial on terror charges without the use of evidence obtained by torture, was signed on April 24. Edward Fitzgerald QC, Othman’s barrister, told the special immigration appeals commission (Siac): “If and when the Jordanian parliament ratify the treaty he will voluntarily return to Jordan.”
The Home Office is now seeking urgent clarification over the Jordanians’ intended timetable for ratification of the new treaty and when exactly it will come into force.
A Home Office spokesman said: “This case is still ongoing - and the home secretary remains determined to put Othman on a plane back to Jordan.”
The British parliament is expected to have approved the new treaty by the end of June. Reports from Amman quote the minister of information as saying the process could take weeks or months but is likely to go ahead.
Fitzgerald said he would be making an application for Othman to be released on bail when a resumed Siac hearing takes place on May 20. He said Othman was willing to be released on the most stringent conditions, including 24-hour house arrest.
“All he wants at this time when he is obviously planning to go back to Jordan is some time with his family.” Fitzgerald said Othman’s decision to return to Jordan was taken because it was “the first time in 12 years that he feels safe in going back”.
Othman has been detained in a maximum-security prison in Britain for a total of seven years and five months while his eight-year-long deportation fight has continued. He is currently being held in a high-security wing of Belmarsh prison, London, after being arrested in March for allegedly breaching his bail conditions.
The Siac judge, Justice Irwin, said yesterday that when the police searched his house on March 7 they found 17 illicit mobile phones, including six that were switched on. They also found 55 CDs and DVDs, three USB memory sticks, an SD card, and other five digital media devices.
Irwin said Othman had to provide an explanation for the cache of illicit communication equipment found in his home. His previous bail conditions had all been firmly focused on one thing, “to stop this man spreading his views”.
The London Metropolitan police are currently investigating whether he was equipping himself to communicate his ideas. The text of the new “mutual legal assistance” treaty negotiated by Britain includes Article 27, which contains a stringent ban on the use of torture-obtained evidence in a trial. It places the onus on the prosecution to “prove beyond any doubt that the statement has been obtained out of free will and choice and was not obtained by torture”.
The new treaty followed rulings by the European court of human rights and the appeal court in London that Othman would face a “flagrant denial of justice” if he was sent back to Jordan to face a retrial on terrorist bombing charges dating back to the 1990s.
Othman was convicted in absentia in 1999 on evidence obtained by torture and sentenced to life imprisonment. Irwin said it was not enough for the treaty to be ratified by the Jordanians. Only when it actually came into force would its provision override any of the rulings by the Jordanian courts.
Othman is a Palestinian of Jordanian nationality. He first arrived in Britain in 1993 and was recognised as a refugee. He was first detained in Belmarsh high-security prison as an international terror suspect in 2002.