European HR Court Rules Britain Cannot Deport Terrorism Suspect Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman aka Abu Qatada
LONDON — The European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday that Abu Qatada, a radical Islamic preacher regarded as one of Al Qaeda’s main inspirational leaders in Europe, cannot be deported from Britain to his native Jordan because his trial there would be tainted by evidence obtained by torture.
The preacher, whose real name is Omar Mahmoud Mohammed Othman, is in prison in Britain and has been convicted in his absence in Jordan of planning two bombing attacks. The British government had insisted that he be returned to Jordan as part of a wider strategy of dealing with international terrorism suspects by deportation.
Although it accepted Jordan’s assurances that Mr. Othman would be treated humanely, the European court in Strasbourg, France, said in its ruling that evidence against Mr. Othman in the Jordan bombings “had been obtained by torturing one of his co-defendants.” Deporting him would “legitimize the torture of witnesses and suspects,” it said, and “result in a flagrant denial of justice.”
Britain has wrestled for more than a decade with a sense that it had become a safe haven and incubator for Islamic extremism, struggling to balance civil liberties and due process with security. One former senior antiterrorism police officer, who requested anonymity in order to discuss delicate security issues, said Britain had tracked as many as 100 nascent terror plots at any one time since 2001,
The court’s decision can be appealed within three months, but if upheld, it would require that Mr. Othman be released, or be charged in Britain.
The decision also emerged as the latest in a long line of disagreements between Britain and the authorities in Europe that have taken on a particularly bitter character as Prime Minister David Cameron has clashed with his counterparts in France and Germany over the financial crisis in the euro zone.
It provoked right-leaning politicians and pundits, who railed Tuesday against what they described as yet another imposition of European restrictions on British life. The Conservative lawmaker Dominic Raab told reporters that the court had run “roughshod over decisions that should be determined by U.K. courts.”
Britain’s home secretary, Theresa May, said that she was “disappointed” by the ruling, and that she would “consider all the legal options available.” She added, “It is important to note that this ruling does not prevent us seeking to deport other foreign nationals.”