LONDON (Reuters) - A radical preacher accused of giving spiritual inspiration to one of the 9/11 hijackers on Monday lost a bid to be freed from the British prison where he is being held ahead of moves to deport him to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
The decision to refuse Abu Qatada bail at a special court will come as a relief to the British government which has been trying to expel the Jordanian cleric for a over decade.
The judge also said he would not be able to rule on the legality of Qatada’s deportation until November, following a two-week hearing starting on October 8.
He said he accepted concerns from Britain’s security services, detailed at the hearing, that Qatada might abscond if freed and damage their ability and that of the police to protect the public when their resources were in high demand during the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games in London this summer.
“If the appellant were to abscond then either their resources would be diverted, or finding him would be allocated a lower priority than should be the case,” the judge, Mr Justice Mitting said.
Last month the preacher, who was not present at the hearing, embarrassed the government by seeking a last-minute delay to deportation proceedings with an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, nearly 24 hours after Britain said the deadline for such a legal recourse had passed.
Even though the appeal was subsequently rejected, the confusion allowed opposition politicians to accuse interior minister Theresa May of incompetence and mock her for apparently not knowing what day it was in the week.
Britain rearrested Qatada in April, hoping it had removed legal obstacles to his deportation and could remove him before the Olympics in July.
The prospect of a swift removal has now receded, and May will have to convince the October hearing that she has overcome a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Qatada could not be deported as he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan.
The Strasbourg court said in January there was a risk that Jordan would use evidence obtained by torture against Qatada, and that without assurances to the contrary his deportation would be a “flagrant denial of justice”.
Britain now says a 2005 deal with Jordan and more recent diplomatic reassurances will ensure that Qatada, once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe”, will receive a fair trial.
Qatada’s lawyers had sought his release on bail, arguing that the proceedings to send him back to Jordan would be lengthy and that it was wrong to keep him in prison during that process after already spending six years in detention without charge.
Jordan has found Qatada guilty in his absence of sending encouragement to militants in the Middle East state planning two bomb attacks in 1999 and 2000.
Before his re-arrest in April, Qatada had spent two months out of jail but under virtual house arrest at his family home in London after his release from prison following the European Court ruling.
Britain, which regards Qatada as a national security risk, says videotapes of his sermons influenced Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been in and out of jail since he was first detained without charge under British anti-terrorism laws in 2002.
Editing by Louise Ireland