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Who is Abu Qatada and why is Britain unable to deport him?

Britain released Islamist preacher Abu Qatada on bail Monday after a British court ruled he could not be extradited to Jordan. 

By Staff writer / November 13, 2012

Abu Qatada, left, gets out of the rear of a vehicle as he returns to his residence in London on Tuesday. The radical Islamist cleric cannot be deported from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges, judges ruled Monday in the latest twist in a protracted legal saga.

Matt Dunham/AP


Monday saw the release of Islamist preacher Abu Qatada from prison in Britain, after a British court ruled that he could not be extradited to Jordan. The ruling is just the latest setback for the government, which has been unsuccessfully trying to remove Mr. Qatada for the better part of a decade. But while a familiar name and face to British readers, Qatada is not well known on this side of the Atlantic. 

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Who is Abu Qatada?

Qatada is a radical Islamist preacher and alleged terrorism supporter currently living in Britain. Born in Bethlehem while the city was under Jordan's control, Qatada is of Palestinian descent and also holds Jordanian citizenship.

Qatada arrived in Britain in September 1993, seeking asylum on the basis of having been tortured by Jordanian authorities, and was granted refugee status a year later.

He quickly became a prominent figure, both in London's militant Islamic community and abroad, by advocating the overthrow of oppressive, foreign-backed governments in the Middle East in favor of regimes founded on Islam. Qatada's sermons also backed the use of violence against apostates – including their wives and children – as religiously justified.

Why is the British government trying to deport him?

Qatada was not initially regarded as a domestic threat – indeed, MI5, the British security agency, attempted to consult with him more than once for better understanding of the country's Islamist community. But by the end of the 1990s, the British government had begun to revise its opinion of Qatada, who had become even more vocally hardline, targeting Jews in his sermons and speaking out in favor of suicide attacks.

At the same time in Jordan, Qatada was charged and convicted in absentia for several terrorism-related crimes. In 1998, he was sentenced to death for supporting attacks on foreign targets in Jordan, though his sentence was quickly commuted to life in prison. And then in 2000, he received a 15-year sentence for supporting similar attacks against tourists attending Jordan's millennium celebrations. Jordanian prosecutors said he provided backing for both operations from Britain.

Following Sept. 11, 2001, Britain enacted laws empowering the government to detain terrorism suspects without charge. Qatada, whose teachings were said to have influenced both Zacarias Moussaoui, the "20th 9/11 hijacker," and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid, was by then a clear concern for the United Kingdom. Although initially able to avoid capture, he was arrested in October 2002. Since then, Qatada has been in and out of jail pending his deportation to Jordan, though he denies supporting terrorism.

Why was he set free?

The short answer is that Jordan's case against Qatada appears too dependent on evidence extracted via torture.


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