British minister heads to Jordan for Abu Qatada talks

British dilemma over Abu Qatada release
British dilemma over Abu Qatada release

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Story highlights

  • Abu Qatada's brother appeals for bail restrictions to be lifted, says he deserves a decent life
  • A Jordanian minister says Abu Qatada would get a fair trial on terrorism charges in Jordan
  • A British minister is to hold talks with Jordan over the radical cleric's deportation
  • Abu Qatada, described as an inspiration to terrorists, has been released on bail in the U.K.
A British minister is traveling to Jordan as the United Kingdom seeks a way to deport a freed radical cleric described by authorities as an inspiration to a September 11 hijacker and other terrorists, the Home Office said Tuesday.
The British government views Abu Qatada as a national security threat but has been barred from deporting him to Jordan under European law because evidence gained from torture could be used against him.
Home Office minister James Brokenshire is heading to Jordan to seek assurances that would allay such concerns.
Aymen Odeh, the Jordanian legislative affairs minister, told CNN that Jordan wanted Abu Qatada back on its soil so he could be tried in person on terrorism charges there -- and that he would get a fair trial. Abu Qatada was already convicted in absentia in Jordan of involvement in terrorist conspiracies after seeking asylum in Britain.
Meanwhile, Abu Qatada's brother, Ibrahim Othman, said the cleric was an educated, affectionate man who needs the right "to live with dignity," wherever he ends up.
Abu Qatada, 51, was released from Long Lartin high security prison on bail Monday, the British Ministry of Justice said.
He had been jailed in Britain for six years while the government worked to deport him to Jordan, where he holds citizenship.
"Everyone is united in wanting this man deported," a Home Office spokeswoman said Tuesday. "This government will exhaust all avenues open to get Qatada on a plane.
Radical cleric released from UK jail
Radical cleric released from UK jail

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Radical cleric released from UK jail 05:53
Jordan wants Qatada to return 'home'
Jordan wants Qatada to return 'home'

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Jordan wants Qatada to return 'home' 02:31
"As we do so, we will continue to negotiate with the Jordanians to see what assurances we can be given about the evidence used against Qatada in their courts. James Brokenshire will travel to Jordan shortly."
Odeh said there was no obstacle to Abu Qatada returning to Jordan, and that his trial there would be fair, open to the public and would not rely on any evidence resulting from "harmful acts."
"When he comes, will be arrested, and the current charges that were made in absentia will be canceled by law, and will start the trial again," Odeh said.
"However, there will be no new investigations in either of the cases. He will have a fair trial, in which he can submit any evidence to defend himself with, in the two cases."
The two cases would be handled by a state security court, which has two military judges and one civil judge, he said. After the three judges reached a decision, the Supreme Court of Cassation would then review the case on its merits and reconsider the evidence.
The Supreme Court of Cassation is an independent court which regularly revisits verdicts, he said.
As for the accusation that Jordan might torture Abu Qatada, Odeh said: "These are all allegations. After the amendments on the constitution that are effective as of October 2011, it is forbidden to torture or do any harmful act whether it is physical or mental to any prisoner, or even threaten to do so.
"Any statement resulting from any harmful acts will not be used in the court at all. Therefore, we can guarantee that he will get a fair trial and it will be open for all to attend."
Odeh said Jordan was concerned that the European Court of Human Rights had failed to consider the changes to its constitution when it ruled that Britain could not deport him there.
Abu Qatada, who remains under restrictive bail conditions, has denied the allegations against him.
In a phone interview with CNN Arabic, Othman said that his brother's relatives in the United Kingdom and Amman were impatiently waiting for his release.
He urged Britain to lift the numerous restrictions on Abu Qatada's movements and contacts with his family, and appealed to whichever country eventually takes him in to "provide him with guarantees to have a decent living and protection for his life."
Othman rejected media depictions of him as "a dangerous man or a radical terrorist."
He said the release of Abu Qatada on bail was clear evidence of his innocence, saying none of the charges against him had been proved before the British or Jordanian courts.
"We just want him to live a decent life. Abu Qatada is a scholar and a man of knowledge," he added.
On Friday, a UK immigration court said the British government was running out of time to justify Abu Qatada's continued detention.
Justice John Edward Mitting ordered Abu Qatada released from jail under a restrictive set of conditions that requires him to stay in his home 22 hours a day, prohibits him from using computers, phones or other electronic communications, and limits visitors, according to a Home Office spokesman.
Mitting gave the government about three months to make progress or face being forced to release Abu Qatada outright.
However, a January 17 ruling by the European Court of Human Rights had said that deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights because of the likelihood that evidence gained from torture would be used against him. That would violate Abu Qatada's right to a fair trial, the court ruled.
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 UK 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.
Abu Qatada applied to stay indefinitely, but while his application was pending, a Jordanian court convicted him in absentia on charges related to two 1998 terrorist attacks and a plot to plant bombs to coincide with the millennium.
He was released briefly in 2005 after the repeal of the anti-terrorism law on which he was being held. British authorities ordered his renewed detention that year under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, according to the European Court of Human Rights.
The British government claims that Abu Qatada is a national security risk who has raised money for terrorist groups, including organizations linked to the former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, and has publicly supported the violent activities of those groups.