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Radical cleric in Britain wins another appeal

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By The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 9:21 p.m.

LONDON — The British government on Wednesday lost another bid to deport a radical Muslim preacher to face trial in Jordan when a court of appeals rejected a request to reconsider an earlier court decision.

After more than a decade of judgments and appeals in British and European courts, cleric Abu Qatada has won several legal battles against deportation.

“This is not the end of the road, and the government remains determined to deport Abu Qatada,” said a Home Office spokesperson after the judgment.

Qatada, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, was once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe. He remains imprisoned as a terrorism suspect in a high-security British prison.

The Palestinian-born preacher entered Britain as an asylum seeker in 1993 from Jordan, where he is wanted for retrial on terrorism conspiracy charges. He was convicted there in absentia on the charges.

Qatada has avoided extradition on the grounds that evidence against him was procured from witnesses under torture, and British judges remain skeptical that any future trial he would face in Jordan would not preclude torture-based evidence.

British law forbids extradition to countries where torture is practiced.

He was first arrested in 2001 under Britain's post-9/11 revamped anti-terrorism laws for his preaching of terrorist violence against Western targets. Since then he has never been charged but has been in and out of jail and house arrest as various British home secretaries have sought to deport him.

Qatada won a previous appeal in November when the London-based special immigrations court ruled he would face an unfair trial in Jordan, despite the British Home Office attempts to reach agreement with Jordan on a retrial free of testimony obtained through torture.

Qatada was rearrested this month while at home for breaching strict bail conditions.

The decision by judges John Dyson, Stephen Richards and Patrick Elias recognized the cleric “is considered to be a dangerous and controversial person,” but added that was not relevant to the issues raised on this appeal.

“It would be equally irrelevant if we were deciding the question whether there was a real risk that he would be tortured if he were returned to Jordan,” they found.

The judges agreed with last November's immigration appeals court that there was “a real risk that evidence obtained by torture would be admitted at the retrial and that, as a consequence, there was a real risk that he would be subject to a flagrant denial of justice.”

Home Secretary Theresa May now faces dwindling options in seeking to deport Qatada. “We continue to work with the Jordanians to address the outstanding legal issues preventing deportation,” the Home Office spokesman said.

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