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British Government Rebuked Again; Court Rules It Cannot Deport Muslim Cleric

Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada arrives home after being released from prison in London, England.
Peter Macdiarmid
Getty Images
Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada arrives home after being released from prison in London, England.

The British government has suffered another loss in its attempt to deport Muslim cleric Abu Qatada back to Jordan.

While Qatada has never been charged with anything in the United Kingdom, he is accused of being a spiritual inspiration for some of the those involved in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The BBC reports that today a Special Immigration Appeals Commission decided the government of Prime Minister David Cameron could not send him back to Jordan, where in 1999, he was convicted on terror charges in absentia.

Reuters explains:

"[Qatada's] sermons were found in a Hamburg flat used by some of those involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001.

"Attempts to extradite him have been hampered by concerns evidence to be used in an expected retrial in Jordan may have been obtained through torture, making his deportation illegal under European law."

Home Secretary Theresa May said Qatada is a "very dangerous man," but the court said that fact has nothing to do with whether his human rights would be violated when he is returned to Jordan. May said this is not the end of the road.

But the BBC explains that Qatada has "seen off six home secretaries." So where this case goes from here is unclear. The BBC reports:

"The immediate effect is that the preacher can't be detained under immigration law because there's no realistic chance he is going to be deported anytime soon.

"So if the home secretary wants to get rid of the cleric, she'll have to start all over again trying to convince judges that the facts on the ground in Jordan have changed."

The Guardian reports one of immigration judges said a few things need to happen before Qatada can be deported:

"The Siac judge Mr Justice Mitting said the diplomatic assurances obtained by May were insufficient to prove that torture-based evidence would not be admitted in any retrial.

"He said the risk would remain until Jordan amended its code of criminal practice or there was a ruling by the Amman constitutional court that such evidence could not be used in a trial. The only other alternative was for the Jordanian prosecutor to prove 'to a high standard that the statements were not obtained by torture.'

"Mitting upheld the ruling by the European court of human rights last year that Qatada would face a "flagrant denial of justice" if he were sent back to Jordan to face trial. His lawyer, Edward Fitzgerald QC, has maintained there is "concrete and compelling evidence" that Qatada's co-defendants were tortured."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.