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UK cannot deport radical cleric, European Court rules

By David Wilkinson, CNN
updated 6:59 AM EST, Tue January 17, 2012
A picture published on March 29, 2000 in Jordan's al-Dustour daily newspaper shows Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada.
A picture published on March 29, 2000 in Jordan's al-Dustour daily newspaper shows Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Evidence obtained by torture could be used against Abu Qatada, the court says
  • Abu Qatada has been fighting to stay in the UK since he was arrested in 2002
  • British officials described him as an inspiration to the lead 9/11 hijacker
  • The European Court ruling is a landmark case regarding torture

London (CNN) -- The United Kingdom cannot deport a radical cleric linked to al Qaeda to Jordan because evidence obtained by torture could be used against him there, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in a landmark case Tuesday.

Abu Qatada has been fighting to remain in the United Kingdom since he was first arrested under anti-terrorism legislation nearly a decade ago.

He would be "at real risk of ill-treatment or a grossly unfair trial if deported to Jordan, where he is wanted on terrorism charges," the court said in a statement announcing the ruling.

British officials have described the Jordanian national as an "inspiration" for terrorists such as Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker behind the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

Abu Qatada appealed to the European Court following a British court ruling in 2009 ordering his deportation.

The court in Strasbourg rejected most of his appeal, but did say there would be a violation of his right to a fair trial if he were sent to Jordan.

It was the first time the court has ever found that expelling a person would violate their rights to a fair trial, it said, "which reflects the international consensus that the use of evidence obtained through torture makes a fair trial impossible."

The ruling is not final. Either side has three months to appeal.

Abu Qatada -- also known as Omar Othman -- arrived in the United Kingdom in 1993 and applied for asylum on the grounds that he had been tortured by Jordanian authorities.

But the British government subsequently claimed that he is a national security risk who raised money for terrorist groups, including organizations linked to Osama bin Laden; and that he publicly supported the violent activities of those groups.

Qatada has denied the allegations.

In his 2009 judgment, Jonathan Mance ruled, "There is no real risk that his trial in Jordan would be flagrantly unfair in character, course or consequences."

Qatada came to the United Kingdom on a forged United Arab Emirates passport, according to court documents, and claimed asylum for himself, his wife and their three children.

The UK government recognized him as a refugee and allowed him to stay in the country until 1998.

Qatada applied to stay indefinitely but, while his application was pending, a Jordanian court convicted him in absentia for involvement in two 1998 terrorist attacks and a plot to plant bombs to coincide with the millennium.

By 2002, the UK government said it suspected Qatada was a terrorist and a national security risk. Refusing him leave to stay in Britain, it ordered he be deported and detained him.

In June 2008, a three-judge appeals panel freed Qatada under strict bail conditions, including fitting him with an electronic monitoring tag and ordering that he stay at home for 22 hours each day.

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