LONDON – Eight foreign suspects, including a radical Muslim cleric allegedly linked to Al Qaeda (search), were granted bail Friday as the government battled to pass a new anti-terrorism law to control their movement.
Abu Qatada (search), who is accused of having extensive contacts with terrorists worldwide, was granted bail at a special commission in London after spending three years in a high-security prison without charge.
Justice Duncan Ouseley (search) set strict conditions for the eight men, including a nighttime curfew, restrictions on whom they can meet and limits on their access to mobile phones and the Internet. Qatada also will be prevented from preaching at mosques or leading prayers.
But the powers allowing authorities to set such bail conditions expire Monday, and Prime Minister Tony Blair's government is urgently trying to pass a new law.
"We cannot have a situation in which the laws which are necessary to protect our country are not implemented," Blair said Friday, urging the main opposition Conservative Party to drop its objections to the Prevention of Terrorism Bill (search).
"We need these powers to defeat those who are planning and plotting terrorist activity in this country. We need to make sure that this country is properly protected against that terrorist threat," Blair said.
The Conservatives and other opposition parties said the proposed powers would infringe civil rights.
The new "control orders" would include restrictions on using the Internet or telephone, curfews, house arrest and electronic tagging without trial. The government says the law would be used sparingly and only against suspects who could not be tried in court because evidence against them would be too sensitive to reveal publicly.
Only a judge would be allowed to order house arrest. But in emergencies, the government has reserved the right for a minister to impose the lesser controls, as long as a judge is consulted within seven days.
Despite debating throughout the night Thursday and all day Friday, the government and opposition parties failed to reach a compromise on the bill.
Opposition lawmakers demand that the law expire within a year of passage and that the government must not impose the orders merely on the suspicions of intelligence services.
The eight have been held under laws passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which allowed the indefinite detention of some foreign terrorism suspects without trial.
In December, Britain's highest court ruled that the law was illegal and breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Qatada was named by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist supporter and his assets were frozen. Weeks after the attacks, he railed publicly against corrupt Western governments and spoke of his "respect" for bin Laden.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said Qatada's sermons as an extremist Islamist preacher had been "an inspiration" for terrorists, including Mohammed Atta, the lead Sept. 11 hijacker. A Spanish judge said Qatada was bin Laden's "spiritual ambassador in Europe."
The seven other freed men were Palestinian Mahmoud Suliman Ahmed Abu Rideh and detainees identified only as B, P, E, H, K and Q.