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Abu Qatada To Stay In Britain For Five Months As Fresh Deportation Bid Launched

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ABU QATADA
Abu Qatada was not present for Monday's hearing, which is deciding whether he should be granted bail | AP

Abu Qatada's bid for freedom has been blocked by a judge over Britain's terror threat at the Olympics.

Allowing the radical preacher free on London's streets would be "exceptionally problematic" during heightened security at the Games, a Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) hearing ruled.

Qatada, who is accused of involvement in several bomb attacks, will remain in a British prison for at least another five months as he launches fresh action against the Government's bid to deport him.

His lawyers also confirmed they would take his fight against deportation back to Europe if the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) rules against him in October or November.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, representing Qatada, who was not present at the bail hearing, told a central London hearing on Monday: "There can be no question of deportation being imminent."

Mr Fitzgerald confirmed his client would be making an appeal but said the case would need a "significant" amount of time.

abu qatada legal fees
Abu Qatada is launching a fresh appeal

He said: "Our evidence will have to deal with the situation on the ground," adding that "it will be difficult to ascertain how those who are giving evidence do so".

The barrister questioned evidence taken in Jordan against Qatada before highlighting allegations that the country's previous leader had been "window dressing", while the secret services retained control of the country.

Home Office barrister Robin Tam QC said the proceedings would be "straightforward", adding: "This is not the time to be dragging things out until the last minute."

Mr Justice Mitting told lawyers that another hearing could take place on 24 July but said the full tribunal would not take place until mid-October.

Around eight BNP supporters gathered outside the court to protest about the hearing.

Qatada, described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, is being held in a high-security prison while he fights deportation to Jordan over terror charges.

The radical cleric's 10-year battle against deportation is in the hands of the British courts after the 51-year-old lost his attempt to make a final appeal to Europe's human rights judges earlier this month.

The political situation in Jordan has also worsened in recent months, casting fresh doubt on the UK's ability to deport him, they claimed.

Repeated failed attempts by UK governments over the last 10 years to deport the radical cleric have cost nearly £1 million in legal fees, Government figures show.

No figures have been given for how much Qatada has received in legal aid and some estimates put the cost of keeping Qatada in the UK, either in a high-security jail or closely monitored under strict conditions in the community, along with the legal costs of the fight to deport him, at more than £3 million.

Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among extremists, was convicted in his absence in Jordan of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and faces a retrial in his home country.

He also 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.

The judge expressed frustration that the case had already taken so long.

He said: "This case has gone on for an unconscionable amount of time and must be brought to a conclusion one way or another."

Arguing Qatada's right to be released, Mr Fitzgerald said "it would be quite wrong for him to remain in prison for another six months".

He added: "There will be obviously a right of appeal for both parties and the matter is one which will almost inevitably go all the way back to Europe."

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UPDATED 18:25, 28 May 2011 with bail refusal details

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