Abu Qatada, described as “Usama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe,” won his fight against deportation Wednesday as the Court of Appeals delivered two blows to attempts to remove suspected terrorists from the U.K. Three judges blocked the deportation of Qatada despite a “no torture” guarantee given to the British Government by Jordan.
Judges also barred the return of two Libyan terror suspects because they would be at risk of torture and a “complete” denial of a fair trial if they were sent there from Britain. The ruling in the Libyan case forced the Home Office to abandon deportation cases against another 10 Libyan suspects after officials received legal advice that they would lose the cases.
The rulings seriously undermine the Government’s strategy of relying on “memorandums of understanding” to deport suspected foreign terrorists to North African and Middle Eastern states with a poor record on human rights. Not a single terror suspect has been deported to Jordan, Libya or Lebanon since the memorandums of understanding were signed, and the deal with Libya is effectively in tatters after the appeals court ruling.
Julia Hall, of Human Rights Watch, said: “These cases show that the British Government should stop trying to deport people to countries whose justice systems are deeply tainted by torture and other abuses.”
Tony McNulty, the Police Minister, said the Home Office would appeal to the House of Lords over the Abu Qatada judgment. He will remain at Long Lartin top-security prison in Worcestershire. If the British government loses the appeal, it faces the prospect of having to release him from jail, where he is being held under immigration powers awaiting deportation.
McNulty said it had already taken steps to protect the public from the suspects. It is thought that the two Libyans, known as AS and DD, have been placed under control orders and that restrictions have been placed on the other 10 Libyan suspects.
Qatada has been convicted in his absence from Jordan over involvement in terror attacks in 1998 and this year ministers hailed a ruling by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that he could return to Jordan. But three appeals court judges, headed by Sir Anthony Clarke, the Master of the Rolls, quashed the SIAC ruling on the ground that Qatada could face a trial in which evidence against him may have been extracted by torture. The appeal panel said that the SIAC had misdirected itself in law over the issue of any evidence obtained by torture.
McNulty said he was pleased that the courts had dismissed all but one of Qatada’s reasons for appeal. He added: “We are seeking to overturn that point, and I believe that we will be able to secure his deportation to Jordan and we will push for it as soon as possible.”
He said the government was disappointed that it had lost the appeals in the cases of AS and DD. “The government’s top objective is to keep the public safe and I am disappointed that the courts have found that deportations to Libya can’t go ahead for now. We will continue to push for deportations for people who pose a risk to national security.”
Opposition politicians said that the two rulings had seriously undermined the government’s strategy for deporting foreign terrorist suspects. David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This deals a major blow to the government’s assurances that memorandums of understanding are the answer in seeking to deport terror suspects. The government should focus on prevention and prosecution rather than just trying to deport these individuals once they are here.”
Chris Huhne, the liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: “The Court of Appeal is rightly concerned about the use of evidence gained under torture in Jordan, which would not be admissible in a British court. This is one of the principal differences between a free society like ours and a tyranny, and the government should not be seeking to circumvent key legal safeguards. It should now charge Qatada in the U.K. courts or release him.”
Gareth Peirce, Qatada’s lawyer, said she welcomed the court’s decision but criticized the memorandum of understanding between Britain and Jordan, saying it was “unenforceable.”
Staying in Britain:
Radical Islamist preacher who was described by a Spanish judge as “Usama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe” and by a British judge as a “truly dangerous individual.” The father of five arrived in Britain in 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport and in June 1994 was allowed to stay after claiming asylum for himself and his family.
Libyan citizen aged 33, who can only be identifed by his initials, was once found with a map marked with the flight path to Birmingham International Airport. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) described him as an Islamist extremist who is a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and while in Britain was a figure of some importance and influence.
Also a Libyan citizen, he was involved with a “serious terrorist group” based in Milan that was monitored by the Italian authorities, according to the SIAC. The terrorist cell was probably about to go into the operational stage of a terrorist attack, most likely inside Europe, it said. The terrorists referred to a “football game” as a coded metaphor for their plot.