Last updated: 9 May, 2012

European rights court clears way for Qatada extradition

Radical cleric and terror suspect Abu Qatada lost his bid Wednesday for top European Court of Human Rights judges to hear his appeal against Britain’s efforts to extradite him to Jordan.

The ruling means Britain can now press ahead with attempts to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted in his absence in 1998 for involvement in terror attacks.

His extradition from Britain has repeatedly been blocked by courts amid concerns about his possible treatment in Jordan, with his lawyers claiming he could be tortured there.

Britain’s interior minister Theresa May said she was confident the decision by the Strasbourg-based court meant the cleric would soon be “out of Britain for good”.

But a top Salafist leader in Jordan condemned the decision and said Abu Qatada’s life would be in danger if he was deported there.

The 51-year-old Jordanian claimed asylum in Britain in 1993, but officials say he is a threat to British security.

In April, Abu Qatada filed an appeal with the European rights court, seeking to have his case heard by the court’s Grand Chamber, made up of 17 judges.

The European five-judge panel said Wednesday it weighed whether the case “raises a serious question affecting the interpretation or application” of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Finding no such concerns, the panel “considered the request should be refused”.

May, Britain’s Home Secretary, hailed the decision.

“I am pleased by the European court’s decision. The Qatada case will now go through the British courts,” she said.

“I am confident the assurances we have from Jordan mean we can put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain for good.”

Abu Qatada’s lawyers also immediately appealed for a bail hearing before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in Britain because it is still likely to be months before he can be deported.

The decision is a victory for the British government’s deportation strategy, even though Home Office officials got the date of the appeal deadline wrong.

May had claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the European court’s original decision on January 17 expired on the night of April 16.

Abu Qatada’s legal team lodged his appeal on the night of April 17, which the ECHR judges ruled was in time, but it had no effect on their decision to reject his appeal.

Abed Shehadeh, a top Jordanian Salafist leader, slammed the court ruling and insisted that Abu Qatada’s life could even be in danger if he is sent to Jordan.

“We condemn this decision,” Abed Shehadeh, known as Abu Mohammad Tahawi, told AFP. “Abu Qatada’s life would be definitely in danger if Britain extradites him to Jordan.”

Shehadeh said Abu Qatada had “nothing to do” with the crimes of which he is accused.

“The United States, Israel and their agents in the region are simply targeting the man,” he added.

Jordan has pledged a “fair” retrial of Abu Qatada and gave Britain reassurances to allay the European court’s concerns.

But Shehadeh said: “These assurances do not mean anything. The state security court’s integrity and integrity are questionable.”

Jordanian government officials were not immediately available for comment.