In the Media

Abu Qatada released from jail

PUBLISHED February 13, 2012

The radical Islamist cleric is freed from Long Lartin prison on some of the most stringent bail conditions possible in the UK

Abu Qatada, the radical Islamist cleric, has been was released from Long Lartin maximum security prison in Worcestershire on some of the most stringent bail conditions under English law.

They include a 22-hour curfew monitored by an electronic tag that places him under effective house arrest.

Abu Qatada, who the judges accept remains a threat to national security, was being taken to a London address where he will live with his immediate family.

The bail conditions are so stringent that they echo the South African "banning orders" of 30 years ago. They even require Abu Qatada to "disengage himself" after an initial greeting from any genuinely chance encounter in the street. Shopkeepers and bus drivers are explicitly excluded from this provision.

He will be banned from using a mobile phone and the internet and be placed under surveillance by security services during the one hour period twice a day he is allowed to leave the address. He will only be able to move within a tightly drawn geographic area.

The eight-page order setting out the bail conditions includes an outright ban on meeting 27 alleged extremists including Abu Hamza and Babar Ahmad. It also bans any contact with Ayman al-Zawahiri ? Osama bin Laden's successor as leader of al-Qaida ? and Abu Rideh, who was once subject to a control order in Britain but was reported 15 months ago to have been killed in Afghanistan.

The special branch will vet all Abu Qatada's visitors except for his family and his lawyer. He also faces a ban on leading prayers, giving lectures or providing religious advice or entering any mosque.

The agreed hours of the curfew will mean he will not be able to take his youngest child to school. He will, however, with the approval of the home secretary, be able to get a job or attend a course of academic study or training.

His release came as early signs of progress emerged with the Jordanian authorities to break the deadlock that is preventing Abu Qatada's removal from Britain.

The release follows a decision last week by the special immigration appeals commission (Siac) that his six and half years in immigration detention without charge pending his deportation could not continue.

The European court of human rights has ruled that the cleric, described by a Spanish judge as Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, cannot be sent back to Jordan while he faces the prospect of a retrial on terrorist offences based on evidence obtained by torture.

Mr Justice Mitting, the Siac judge who made the bail decision, has warned ministers that unless they can secure within three months "demonstrable progress" in securing judge-proof assurances that he will face a fair trial then he will have to relax the bail conditions.

The Home Office minister James Brokenshire will travel to Jordan this week to press the Jordanians for a cast-iron assurance that Abu Qatada will not face a terrorism trial based on evidence by torture on his return. The Jordanian legislative affairs minister, Ayman Odeh, said the country had passed a constitutional amendment to ban the use of evidence obtained through torture and was working with the UK government to give the Strasbourg court the assurances it needed.

"It mentions very expressly that any evidence obtained from torture or a threat of torture should not be admissible before the courts in Jordan," he said.

"We are confident that once we have the chance to make this statement through the diplomatic channels ? [it] will be taken into consideration. We are now making the necessary arrangements to do such assurances through the British government. Very soon something will be done for this purpose," he said.

Abu Qatada's lawyers warned last week however that even if a fresh agreement was reached with Jordan it would simply trigger a new round of litigation in the British courts to test the legality of the assurances.

Downing Street said it still wanted to deport Abu Qatada at the earliest opportunity. "We will take all measures necessary to protect the public. We are committed to removing him from the country. We want to see him deported and we are looking at all the options for doing that. I'm not going to go into specifics," said David Cameron's spokesman.

But Labour's Yvette Cooper said the government had not done all it could to stop Abu Qatada being released from prison on Monday. "As soon as the European court judgment was delivered a month ago now, the government could have appealed the decision and begun urgent negotiations with the Jordanian government," said the shadow home secretary.

"Instead the government did nothing, leaving a judge to decide there was little progress being made in deporting Qatada and that bail was the only option." © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds