British court grants bail to radical cleric

A picture published on March 29, 2000 in Jordan's al-Dustour daily newspaper shows Jordanian cleric Abu Qatada.

Story highlights

  • Abu Qatada has been granted bail, the British Home Office says
  • The British government has argued that he is a national security risk
  • Qatada has denied allegations that he raised money for terrorist groups
  • Earlier this month a court ruled that he could not be deported to Jordan
A court in the United Kingdom has granted bail to a radical cleric accused of links to al Qaeda, the British Home Office said Monday.
Abu Qatada has been imprisoned for years while fighting deportation, according to British media reports.
The Home Office had opposed bail, and said after the decision that its view had not changed.
"This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security," the Home Office said through a spokesperson. "... This is not the end of the road and we are continuing to consider our legal options."
The Jordanian national has been fighting to remain in the United Kingdom since he was first arrested under anti-terrorism legislation nearly a decade ago.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said Abu Qatada was the spiritual adviser to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian Islamic militant who became the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi and his followers were blamed for some of the bloodiest attacks of the eight-year war that followed the U.S. invasion in 2003.
Bergen said the case highlights the problems governments face in dealing with religious leaders accused of inspiring terror plots without carrying them out themselves.
"It's not like these guys were mixing the chemicals for the bomb," Bergen said. But he said clerics like Abu Qatada "sort of give spiritual sanction to their followers [to] do violence, and that's what makes these kinds of cases hard to prosecute -- because thought crime is difficult to prosecute."
But Bergen said the conditions of Abu Qatada's bail make it "very difficult for him to do something."
"He can't be deported, and yet the British courts have also said he can't be imprisoned," he said. "So where does that end up? That ends up with him living under some form of house arrest in the UK, for an indefinite period."
In 2002, the British 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.
Earlier this month, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom could not deport him to Jordan, because evidence obtained by torture could be used against him there.
British officials have described him as an "inspiration" for terrorists such as Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker behind the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
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. He 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 British 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.
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. He remained in custody Monday pending bail, British media said.