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Abu Qatada, Radical Cleric, Free To Walk The Streets As Moves Continue To Have Him Deported

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Abu Qatada in 2008
Abu Qatada in 2008

A radical cleric who poses a serious risk to the UK's national security was free to walk the streets today as talks continued to deport him as soon as possible.

Abu Qatada was released under some of the toughest conditions imposed since the September 11 terror attacks and is free to leave his home for just two hours a day.

His release from Long Lartin high-security jail in Evesham, Worcestershire, last night came as Home Office Minister James Brokenshire arrived in Jordan for talks with government officials in the capital Amman.

Qatada was let out after applying for bail when human rights judges in Europe ruled he could not be deported without assurances from Jordan that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him.

On Tuesday, A Jordanian spokesperson said: "Jordan will promise to offer every guarantee of a fair trial in the kingdom."

Home Secretary Theresa May now has just three months to show the Government is making significant progress in securing those assurances or risk Qatada, once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, being freed from his bail conditions.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron told King Abdullah of the "frustrating and difficult" position Britain was in over its efforts to deport the Islamist radical.

But Ayman Odeh, the Jordanian legislative affairs minister, said the country had passed a constitutional amendment in September to ban the use of evidence obtained through torture.

"We are confident that once we have the chance to make this statement through the diplomatic channels... (it) will be taken into consideration," he told Sky News yesterday.

"We are now making the necessary arrangements to do such assurances through the British government. Very soon something will be done for this purpose."

Qatada's mother Aisha Othman has also called for the cleric to be sent back to Jordan.

"We want him home now," she told the Daily Mail, adding: "I don't know why the British keep him. There is no good reason."

Former security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones said Qatada posed a future risk rather than an immediate threat to the UK.

She told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "He's unlikely to be much of a risk at the moment under that degree of surveillance, but what we know is that's not going to be a permanent situation if an agreement can't be somehow found within three months with the Jordanian government, so there's a long-term risk there."

But Conservative former Home Office minister David Mellor said Mrs May should simply ignore the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and "put him on a plane this morning".

He blamed "paralysis" within the coalition for Mrs May's failure to act.

"A combination of (Justice Secretary) Ken Clarke and the Liberal Democrats makes this a political fight she feels she cannot win so she is funking it," he said.

Under the terms of his bail, Qatada, 51, is banned from taking his youngest child to school, must stay inside his home for 22 hours a day, and cannot talk to anyone who has not been vetted by the security services first.

If he should meet a friend during either of his two one-hour periods outside his London home each day, he must make his excuses and leave.

A summary of the bail order, published by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), also showed he is banned from meeting 27 people, including new al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, radical cleric Abu Hamza, and terror suspect Babar Ahmad.

Qatada is also banned from using the internet and mobile phones, as well as meeting or communicating with anyone who is subject to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (Tpims), the Government's replacement for control orders.

The bail terms also ban him from visiting mosques, leading prayers, giving lectures or preaching, other than to offer advice to his wife and children at his home.

The cleric, who must wear an electronic tag and check in with the monitoring firm up to four times a day as he enters and leaves his home, is also prohibited from making any statement without the prior approval of the Home Secretary.

Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and has featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.

Since 2001, when fears of the domestic terror threat rose in the aftermath of the attacks, he has challenged, and ultimately thwarted, every attempt by the Government to detain and deport him.

Last month, the Strasbourg-based ECHR ruled that sending Qatada back to face terror charges without assurances that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him would be a "flagrant denial of justice".

The ruling was the first time the court found an extradition would be in violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to a fair trial, which is enshrined in UK law under the Human Rights Act.

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