It is simply not acceptable that Britain cannot deport a radical Muslim cleric who “poses a serious risk to our national security”, the Home Secretary said yesterday as she revealed she wanted Abu Qatada deported in time for the Olympics Games.
Theresa May said she disagreed with a senior immigration judge’s decision to bail Qatada on Monday, which means he will be free within a week.
“The right place for a terrorist is a prison cell; the right place for a foreign terrorist is a foreign prison cell far away from Britain,” Mrs May said.
Mrs May said British courts had found Qatada “poses a serious risk to our national security”, has a “long-standing association with al Qaida” and provides “religious justification for acts of violence and terror”.
She added his bail conditions, which include a 22-hour curfew and strict conditions over whom he can meet, were among “the most stringent imposed for anybody facing deportation from the UK”.
“If any of these conditions are breached, he will be re-arrested and we will seek his immediate re-detention,” Mrs May said. “But however strict the bail conditions, I continue to believe that Qatada should remain behind bars.
“It simply isn’t acceptable that, after guarantees from the Jordanians about his treatment, after British courts have found he is dangerous, after his removal has been approved by the highest courts in our land, we still cannot deport dangerous foreign nationals.”
Mrs May added that Qatada did not have immigration status and was not entitled to claim benefits.
Answering an urgent question in the Commons yesterday, Mrs May said she wanted to be in a position “where we can deport Abu Qatada so he’s not in this country when the Olympics come”. She went on: “We will do everything we can within the existing legal regime to deport Qatada and we’re doing everything we can to reform that regime to avoid these cases in future.”
Qatada has been held for six and a half years, more than any other detainee in modern immigration history, while fighting deportation to Jordan. But he will be released 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.
Mr Justice Mitting, president of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) which considered the case, said while his detention to date had been justified, “the time will arrive quite soon when continuing detention or deprivation of liberty” would have to stop. He gave the Home Secretary three months to show British diplomats were making progress in negotiations with Jordan or risk seeing Qatada’s bail conditions removed.
Mrs May said the Government was continuing to consider the case for a British Bill of Rights and the Prime Minister was leading the case for reform of the Strasbourg-based human rights court.
Under the terms of his bail, Qatada must stay at a home address, which will be checked by MI5 over the next few days before he can be released from Long Lartin jail in Worcestershire.
All visitors to his home, apart from his wife and children, must be approved beforehand.
Qatada, also known as Omar Othman, 51, 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.