Radical cleric Abu Qatada boards a private flight at a Royal Air Force base… (Ralph Merry / British Defense…)
LONDON -- Britain’s long-running attempts to deport a radical Muslim preacher described as a key Al Qaeda supporter in Europe finally ended Sunday when the man was flown to Jordan to face terrorism charges.
Abu Qatada, 53, was escorted from the London prison where he has spent most of the last eight years to an air force base for his transfer to Jordan in the dead of night. He arrived in Amman, the Jordanian capital, later Sunday morning and was immediately taken into custody by authorities there.
For the British government, the cleric’s departure brought an end to years of frustration during which their attempts to send him back to his home country were repeatedly blocked by the courts. His deportation finally received the green light after Britain and Jordan signed a treaty to guarantee that evidence obtained under torture would not be used in his trial.
Britain calls Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, a dangerous extremist who exhorts followers to wage holy war through suicide attacks and other terrorist acts. Copies of his sermons were found in a German flat belonging to people implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks.
A noted Spanish judge once described Abu Qatada as Osama bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe.”
“It was a clear priority for us that we did deport Abu Qatada,” British Home Secretary Theresa May told Sky News on Sunday. “And I was just very clear that we would keep going and that we would keep working until we were able to do it.”
May, one of the highest-ranking members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet, personally traveled to Amman to urge officials to ensure that Abu Qatada’s trial would be free of evidence extracted under torture. Cameron himself telephoned Jordan’s King Abdullah II to request his help in resolving the matter.
After the signing of the treaty between London and Amman this year, the cleric accepted that he would receive a fair trial, which paved the way for his transfer. As part of the agreement, a human-rights group in Jordan will monitor his treatment and trial.
Abu Qatada came to Britain in 1993 seeking asylum from Jordan. But his hard-line teachings attracted the scrutiny of authorities, and after the Sept. 11 attacks, he was arrested on suspicion of inciting terrorism under new laws passed by Parliament.
He was jailed in 2005, emerging only for brief spells under which he was kept under strict bail conditions tantamount to house arrest, including an order to stay at home 22 hours a day and a ban on the use of cellphones, computers and the Internet.
But he was never formally charged with an offense in Britain, and successive British governments, under both the Labor and Conservative parties, energetically sought ways to expel him.
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