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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Britain Expected to Use New Law to Jail Islamic Radical

Courts: Officials, citing lack of evidence, have so far not moved against Abu Qatada, branded by the U.S. and others as Bin Laden's henchman.

November 22, 2001|MARJORIE MILLER and SEBASTIAN ROTELLA | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Abu Qatada's radical views promoting jihad, or Islamic holy war, are well known. He says he has no relationship to Al Qaeda but respects its struggle to liberate Saudi Arabia from a corrupt government and rid the nation of U.S. military bases.

His videotaped sermons were found in a Hamburg, Germany, flat used by three of the Sept. 11 hijackers, the British press has reported.

The radical cleric also has been linked to French terrorism suspects. Jamal Beghal, 38, an Algerian-born Frenchman who is accused of planning to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Paris, told his interrogators that he moved to Britain in 1997 to study under Abu Qatada.

He reportedly went from Britain to an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan before he was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in July on his way back to Europe. Beghal's lieutenant, Kamel Daoudi, who was arrested in Britain in September and sent back to France, is also believed to have attended Abu Qatada's sermons in London.

Proposed Law Draws Fire From Left, Right

Another European intelligence report alleged that Abu Qatada had ties to terrorist cells that attempted an attack in Strasbourg, France, last year and to a cell that planned the aborted millennium plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport at the end of 1999.

Britain's proposed anti-terrorism law under which Abu Qatada is likely to be detained has been assailed by critics on the right and left as an attack on civil liberties and potentially illegal. Even members of Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor Party have accused the government of rushing it through Parliament too quickly for adequate scrutiny.

The government is claiming a public emergency to allow it to opt out of part of the European Convention on Human Rights and pass the bill allowing for unlimited detention of suspects who are not British citizens and whose lives would be endangered if they were deported.

The European Convention allows signatories to opt out of a ban on detaining suspects indefinitely without trial in time of war or public emergency "threatening the life of the nation in extraordinary circumstances." But human rights lawyers say the situation in Britain does not satisfy this condition.

The government has allowed three days for the House of Commons to debate the bill, which includes new measures to tighten airport security, freeze suspected terrorists' funds and outlaw incitement to religious hatred.

The Guardian newspaper reported this week that the government has a list of about 20 suspects earmarked for arrest after the measure passes. Abu Qatada is said to head that list.

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