Government 'determined' to deport Abu Qatada - Clegg

Abu Qatada Abu Qatada has been in detention in the UK for seven years

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The deputy prime minister has said the government is "absolutely determined" to deport Muslim cleric Abu Qatada to Jordan to face terrorism charges.

"He should not be in this country, he is a dangerous person," Nick Clegg told ITV's Daybreak.

Abu Qatada will be released later from Long Lartin prison, in Worcestershire.

On Monday, a UK court decided he might not get a fair trial in Jordan, where evidence obtained by the torture of others could be used.

Mr Clegg said: "We are determined to deport him, we strongly disagree with the court ruling. We are going to challenge it, we are going to take it to appeal. We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan, he does not belong here.

"He should not be in this country, he is a dangerous person. He wanted to inflict harm on our country and this coalition government is going to do everything we can to challenge this every step of the way to make sure that he is deported to Jordan."

Jordan's acting information minister Nayef al-Fayez told the BBC his government shared UK authorities' disappointment at the Siac ruling.

Abu Qatada has lived in the UK for almost 20 years - and he might be here a few more yet because the legal roadblock on deportation is very difficult to remove.

Judges say there is a real risk that the preacher's retrial in Jordan would be unfair because it would include incriminating statements made by men who were tortured by the secret police.

They want to see either an unambiguous change to Jordan's criminal court code to exclude such material, or a ruling by its higher courts to the same effect.

So there is little prospect of Abu Qatada being deported unless the home secretary can convince Jordan to change or convince the UK's Court of Appeal that Siac got the law wrong.

If either of those routes were successful - and that's a very big "if" - it wouldn't end there. The cleric could ask the European Court of Human Rights to examine what Jordan is saying - something that could take years.

Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been in detention in Britain for seven years - although he has never been charged with a crime in the UK.

Earlier this year, judges at the European Court in Strasbourg ruled the cleric would not face ill-treatment if returned to Jordan, citing assurances outlined in a UK-Jordan agreement.

Crucially, however, the judge did not believe he would get a fair trial because a Jordanian court could use evidence against Abu Qatada that had been obtained from the torture of others.

On Monday, despite the UK obtaining additional assurances from Jordan, Siac chairman Mr Justice Mitting ruled he was not satisfied Abu Qatada would be tried fairly.

David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, told the BBC: "The key to this case really lies in Jordan.

"What the judge said, what the court said in terms, was that a simple amendment to the Jordanian criminal code so as to remove an ambiguity that is in it at the moment ought to suffice to make deportation possible, because it would then be possible to say without fear of contradiction that Abu Qatada, if placed on trial back in Jordan, would not be tried on the basis of evidence obtained by torture," he told Radio 4's Today programme.

Bail conditions

Home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz, who branded the Siac ruling "farcical", said the king of Jordan would be visiting the UK later this month, which gave the government "an opportunity to try and persuade him to go that little bit further in terms of the way the criminal code of Jordan operates".

The case had cost taxpayers £1m, he said.

Human rights lawyer Julian Knowles warned that it could drag on for years.

Abu Qatada legal chronology

  • October 2002: Detained without charge
  • March 2005: Law Lords ban detention without charge, ordering release. Issued with control order - form of house arrest restricting movements
  • August 2005: Detained again, pending deportation
  • February 2007: Loses appeal at Siac
  • April 2008: Court of Appeal says deportation to regime that tortures would breach human rights
  • June 2008: Bailed - but then detained five months later on new evidence of risk
  • February 2009: Law Lords back deportation, saying the Court of Appeal got it wrong
  • January 2012: European Court overturns that decision, saying Jordan will not provide a fair trial
  • November 2012: Wins appeal at Siac and will be released on bail

"We've got another year's worth of UK litigation at least. And then if Abu Qatada is the loser at the end of the domestic phase, he can then go back to the European Court and say, 'Look, the English courts have misunderstood the evidence.'

"The European Court will look at the position as it then is in 2014 or 2015 or whenever it is, and there is a possibility therefore that we are in for several years more of litigation."

The bail conditions imposed by Mr Justice Mitting on Abu Qatada include being allowed out of his house only between 08:00 and 16:00, having to wear an electronic tag, and being restricted in whom he meets.

Abu Qatada faces a retrial in Jordan for allegedly conspiring to cause explosions on Western and Israeli targets in 1998 and 1999. He was found guilty of terrorism offences in his absence in Jordan in 1999.

The Palestinian-born Jordanian has been described as the spiritual leader of the mujahideen. Security chiefs believe he played a key ideological role in spreading support for suicide bombings.

Keith Best, from the charity Freedom from Torture, said: "This really ought to be a wake-up call that those who live by the sword, perish by the sword, and if states continue to try to obtain evidence by torture - notoriously unreliable by the way - then those states have got to learn that if they want to prosecute people in the courts, those prosecutions will probably fail."

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