LONDON (Reuters) - A radical Islamic preacher Britain believes poses a threat to its national security was granted bail on Monday, despite attempts by the Home Office to keep him in prison.
Abu Qatada, a Jordanian once described as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe,” is expected to be released shortly into a tightly controlled form of house arrest after the decision by a specialist court, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission.
He made his application for bail after winning an appeal in a European court last month to stop Britain from deporting him to Jordan to stand trial on terrorism charges.
Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been fighting attempts to deport him for six years and his case has become a key test of how Britain treats foreign suspects accused of having links with groups such as al Qaeda.
A court in Jordan has found Qatada guilty in his absence of involvement in two bomb plots and a senior British judge has described him as a “truly dangerous” supporter of radical Islamist groups.
Qatada, who was born in 1960 near Bethlehem, then part of Jordan and now of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is being held in Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire, central England.
Never formally charged with an offence, he has been in and out of custody and been held under a form of house arrest since he was first detained under anti-terrorism laws in 2002.
The European Court of Human Rights ruled in January that Britain could not deport him as he would not receive a fair trial in Jordan because evidence against him might have been obtained by torture.
Incensed by that decision, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a major overhaul of the Strasbourg court.
A Home Office spokesperson said after Monday’s bail ruling: “Qatada should remain in detention, our view has not changed. That is the argument we made to the court today and we disagree with its decision.
“This is a dangerous man who we believe poses a real threat to our security and who has not changed in his views or attitude to the UK.
“This is not the end of the road and we are continuing to consider our legal options in response to the European Court’s ruling.”
Reporting by Stephen Addison