LONDON (AP) — A radical Islamist cleric at the center of a lengthy legal battle to avoid extradition from Britain to Jordan was arrested Tuesday and told the UK government is resuming attempts to send him to the Arab country.
British authorities have been trying to deport Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian preacher described in both Spanish and British courts as a leading al-Qaeda figure in Europe, since 2005. They claim he poses a risk to national security.
Abu Qatada has previously been convicted in his absence in Jordan of terrorist offenses related to two alleged bomb plots in 1999 and 2000, and would face a retrial if deported from Britain.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that Abu Qatada could not be deported to Jordan because of a risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against him in any future trial there.
Home Secretary Theresa May, however, is expected to tell lawmakers in an address later Tuesday that she believes new assurances from Jordan over the cleric’s right to a fair trial mean that his deportation will now be able to go ahead.
“UK Border Agency officers have today arrested Abu Qatada and told him that we intend to resume deportation proceedings against him,” the Home Office said in a statement.
The ministry said that Abu Qatada was told he would be deported on or around April 30. However, if the cleric’s lawyers lodge an appeal against the new deportation attempt, as is expected, the process could take several months.
Abu Qatada, also known as Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, was detained in Britain in 2002 under anti-terrorism laws which at the time allowed suspected terrorists to be jailed without charge.
Though the cleric was released in 2005 when the unpopular law was overturned, he was kept under surveillance and arrested again within months to be held in custody pending his deportation to Jordan.
Following the European court’s ruling, the cleric was freed in February on strict bail conditions, including a curfew.
Government officials earlier had confirmed Britain decided not to lodge an appeal to contest the European court’s decision before a midnight deadline to do so expired.
May is expected to tell legislators that negotiations with Jordan — including two trips there by British ministers and telephone talks between Prime Minister David Cameron and Jordan’s King Abdullah II — have secured pledges from Jordanian authorities that they will not use evidence gleaned through torture against Abu Qatada.
In its January ruling, the European court said “not only is torture widespread in Jordan, so too is the use of torture evidence by its courts.”
However, May — who visited Jordan last month — believes the new assurances will lead both British and European courts to dismiss any fresh appeal by the cleric against his deportation on those grounds.
As May prepared to address legislators on progress in the case, militants issued a new warning to Britain over the cleric’s fate.
SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online activity from terrorist groups, said that Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked militant group al-Shabab had posted a statement on militant forums Monday denouncing Britain.
According to SITE, the English-language statement said Abu Qatada’s deportation to Jordan would be a “travesty of justice.”
“The British public is also forewarned that it will be the British government, as a result of its imprudence, that shall be liable for any disaster that befalls them, or their national interests,” the statement said, according to SITE.
Al-Qaeda has also warned Britain not to deport Abu Qatada, saying in statement posted on a militant website that the cleric’s expulsion would open “an unnecessary door to evil that will harm (Britain) and its subjects.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.