|Abu Qatada Al-Filistini (The Palestinian)
أبو قتادة الفلسطيني
|Born||Omar Mahmoud Othman
Bethlehem, West Bank
|Other names||Abu Omar|
|Known for||Alleged links with terrorism, imprisonment without trial|
Abu Qatada al-Filistini ( pronunciation (help·info) AH-boo kah-TAH-dah;[needs IPA] Arabic: أبو قتادة الفلسطيني, ’Abū Qatāda al-Filisṭīnī (The Palestinian) ), born Omar Mahmoud Othman (Arabic: عمر بن محمود بن عثمان ‘Umar ibn Maḥmūd ibn ‘Uṯmān)[a] in 1959/1960, is a Jordan citizen of Palestinian origin who is under worldwide embargo by the United Nations Security Council Committee 1267 for his alleged affiliation with al-Qaeda. He was repeatedly imprisoned and released in the United Kingdom after he was first detained under anti-terrorism laws in 2002, but was not prosecuted for any crime. The Algerian government has described Abu Qatada as being involved with Islamists in London and possibly elsewhere. After initially barring the United Kingdom from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, in May 2012 the European Court of Human Rights denied him leave to appeal against deportation without specifying a reason.
On 12 November 2012, the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) upheld Abu Qatada's appeal against deportation and released him on restrictive bail conditions. The Home Secretary Theresa May said the government would appeal against the decision. He was deported to Jordan on 7 July 2013, after the UK and Jordanian governments agreed and ratified a treaty satisfying the need for clarification that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him in his forthcoming trial.
On 26 June 2014, Abu Qatada was found not guilty by a Jordan court of terrorism charges relating to an alleged 1998 plot. He will remain in prison pending a verdict due September 2014 on a second alleged plot.
In 1989, he went to Peshawar in Pakistan where he served as a professor of sharia sciences. Contrary to reports that he met Osama Bin Laden while in Peshawar, Abu Qatada has always distanced himself from links to Al Qaeda and insists he never met with Osama Bin Laden.
In 1991, after the Gulf War, Abu Qatada was expelled from Kuwait, along with many other Palestinians. He returned to Jordan, but in September 1993 he fled with his wife and five children to the UK, using a forged UAE passport. He requested asylum on grounds of religious persecution, claiming he had been tortured in Jordan, and asylum was granted in June 1994.
According to Conservative politician Boris Johnson, Abu Qatada's residence in Britain is estimated to have cost the British taxpayer at least £500,000 in benefit payments to his family and other expenses by early 2012. The Daily Telegraph claimed the cost to be as high as £3 million by May 2012, a figure that could not be confirmed by the British Home Office.
Abu Qatada's writings and speeches have been critically assessed by a contemporary Salafi Muslim scholar from Algeria, Shaykh 'Abdul-Malik ar-Ramadani al-Jaza'iri, in the book Takhlis al-'Ibad min Wahshiyyat Ab'il-Qataad aladhi yu'du ila Qatli'n-Nisa wa Awlad [or "Liberating the Servants from the Barbarism of the Father of Thorns Who Propagates the Killing of Women and Children"] (Jeddah: Maktabah Asalah al-Athariyyah, 2001 CE/1422 AH).
In October 1999 he gave a sermon in which he told his congregation that American citizens "should be attacked, wherever they were" and that "there was no difference between English, Jewish and American people." This was interpreted by the British prosecutor as "effectively issued a fatwa authorising the killing of Jews, including Jewish children".
In a sermon on 14 September 2001, he describe the 9/11 attacks as part of a wider battle between Christendom and Islam. In autumn 2002, a poem praising Bin Laden and glorifying the attacks appeared online. It was attributed to Qatada. In another sermon he stated that it was not a sin for a Muslim to kill a non-believer for the sake of Islam.
Links and influence
Although Abu Qatada distanced himself from al-Qaeda following his arrest in London in 2001, Fawaz Gerges remarks he had extensive contacts with al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan at the time. Jason Burke notes, "Qutada [sic] has impeccable traditional and modern Salafist credentials and had acted as the in-house alim to radical groups, particularly in Algeria, from his base in northwest London since 1994". In 2001, after bin Laden was criticised by a Salafist faction for issuing fatwas, he turned to Abu Qatada for support, and the support was forthcoming.
According to the indictment of the Madrid al-Qaeda cell prepared by Spanish prosecutors, Abu Qatada was "considered the spiritual leader" of al-Qaeda in Europe and other groups including the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and the Tunisian Combat Group. Abu Qatada has been called by The Times a preacher or advisor to al-Qaeda terrorists Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid. According to The Independent, videos of Abu Qatada's sermons were found in the Hamburg apartment of Mohamed Atta when it was searched after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which Atta led.
When questioned in the UK in February 2001, Abu Qatada was in possession of £170,000 cash and £805 in an envelope labelled "for the Mujahedin in Chechnya". Mr Justice Collins, then chairman of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) that rejected his appeal against detention without charge or trial in 2004, said that Abu Qatada was "heavily involved, indeed was at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda. He is a truly dangerous individual". Abu Qatada was subsequently released in 2005, never having been charged with any crime. Abu Qatada's name is included in the UN al-Qaeda sanction list pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267.
In 2005 Qatada recorded a video message to the kidnappers of peace activist Norman Kember, appealing for Kember to be released. BBC journalist Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza on 13 March 2007. Johnston's captors, the Doghmush clan who headed the Army of Islam, demanded the release of dozens of captives, including Abu Qatada. Abu Qatada offered to help negotiate Johnston's release. In 2012 the al-Qaeda-linked Somali group Al-Shabaab threatened an attack against the UK if Qatada was deported.
On 7 February 2012, The Daily Telegraph reported that a senior manager at the BBC had instructed its journalists not to call Abu Qatada an extremist. The BBC subsequently used the form of words "accused of being one of the UK's most dangerous extremist preachers". Others have described him as "a prominent political refugee" from the Jordanian dictatorship.
Conviction in Jordan and retrial acquittal
In 1999, Abu Qatada was sentenced in absentia by Jordan to life imprisonment with hard labour for conspiracy to carry out terror attacks, and subsequently in 2000 to a further 25 years for his involvement in a plot to bomb tourists attending Millennium celebrations in Jordan. The 1999 conviction related to events described by the US State Department in 1998 as involving the "Reform and Defiance Movement--a small, mostly indigenous radical Islamic group" targeting the Modern American School and a major hotel between mid-March and early May, with bombings which caused minor property damage but no casualties.
In 2008 the UK Court of Appeal concluded "that his 1999 conviction for terrorism was based on evidence extracted through torture". At Abu Qatada's 2012 SIAC hearing, Mr Justice Mitting observed that the evidence presented by Jordan against Abu Qatada "seems extremely thin". Overall, between 2007 and his deportation in 2013, as many as 12 senior British judges in various courts recognised the torture origins of the evidence against him.
Upon returning to Jordan in July 2013, he exercised his right under Jordanian law to a retrial since he was originally convicted in absentia. A Jordanian military court refused to grant him bail during the retrial as he faces terrorism charges.
On 26 June 2014, the Jordan court found Abu Qatada not guilty of the charges relating to the alleged 1998 plot. He will remain in prison pending a verdict due September 2014 on the alleged Millennium plot.
Arrest and detention in UK
In February 2001, Abu Qatada was arrested and questioned in connection with a German terror cell. There was insufficient evidence against him, and all charges were dropped. Tapes of his sermons were later discovered in a Hamburg flat used by the 9/11 hijackers. The Home Office stated that Abu Qatada was the spiritual guide to the 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta.
In the wake of 9/11, new anti-terror legislation was quickly introduced in the UK. Abu Qatada, who had hitherto lived with his family in Acton, west London, disappeared. His disappearance and his previous alleged contacts with MI5, prompted speculation by the Times that he was working with British intelligence and had agreed to provide them with information on suspects in the "war on terror". The Times reported that "Britain ignored warnings—which began before the 11 September attacks—from half a dozen friendly governments about Abu Qatada’s links with terrorist groups and refused to arrest him. Intelligence chiefs hid from European allies their intention to use the cleric as a key informer against Islamic militants in Britain."
According to Victoria Brittain:
The US, aided by the UK, on behalf of its key ally Jordan, went so far as to kidnap UK residents Jamil el-Banna and Bisher al-Rawi on a business trip in Africa, torture them in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and take them to Guantánamo Bay in order to interrogate them about Othman. When those men sued the British authorities for what they had done, parliament was persuaded to create secret courts to adjudicate on secret defences.
Though their address was supposed to be a secret, members of the EDL and others besieged the Abu Qatada's family home every Saturday, and the police only put an end to the severe, and reportedly terrifying, harassment after a court case forced them to. The duration and location of his detention—without charge or trial—was described by one British judge as "lamentable…extraordinary…hardly, if at all, acceptable".
In October 2002 Abu Qatada was arrested in south London and taken to Belmarsh Prison. Here he began a long legal battle against deportation. In October 2002, the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, detained Abu Qatada indefinitely without trial under Part 4 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (ATCSA), which at that time provided for such detention. The Special Immigrations Appeals Commission subsequently rejected an appeal by Abu Qatada to be released from detention without trial.
Abu Qatada feared he would be tortured were he returned to Jordan. During this period Abu Qatada lived in a legal twilight as Asim Qureshi, of UK-based human rights group CagePrisoners, explained : "He has not been able to see the evidence against him neither has his lawyer. The only person representing him is a special advocate who is not allowed to speak to him or his solicitor. There you have the bizarre situation where someone is representing him who has never met him or his lawyer", he said.
In 2005, Part 4 of ATCSA was replaced by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which replaced detentions with control orders, and Abu Qatada was released under such a control order. Five months later, on 12 August 2005, Abu Qatada was detained again pending deportation to Jordan. A British court ruled on 26 February 2007, that he could be deported to Jordan.
On 9 April 2008, the Court of Appeal ruled that Abu Qatada could not be returned to Jordan as he would face a further trial where there was a strong probability that evidence obtained by torture might be used that would amount to a breach of the United Kingdom's obligations under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. He was released on bail by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission on 8 May 2008, subject to a 22-hour home curfew and other restrictions. His bail security was provided by former terrorist hostage Norman Kember, whose release Abu Qatada had requested before Kember's rescue by the SAS in 2006.
In November 2008, Qatada was rearrested at his home. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission revoked his bail, stating he had not broken bail conditions, but might do at some time in the future. The commission accepted the government's claim that Abu Qatada posed a significant risk of absconding, and returned him to prison pending his possible deportation.
On 18 February 2009, the Law Lords ruled that Abu Qatada could be deported to Jordan, with Lord Hoffmann declaring that "There is in my opinion no authority for a rule that...the risk of the use of evidence obtained by torture necessarily amounts to a flagrant denial of justice". On the same day Home Secretary Jacqui Smith served a deportation order against Abu Qatada. No step was taken to enforce the order pending Abu Qatada's appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). In the same month the ECHR awarded Abu Qatada £2,500 in a lawsuit he filed against the UK, after judges ruled that his detention without trial in the UK breached his human rights.
On 17 January 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Abu Qatada could not be deported to Jordan as that would be a violation of his right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This was the first time the court has ruled that such an expulsion would be a violation of Article 6. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission subsequently ruled that Abu Qatada should be bailed on highly prescriptive terms for three months while the British government sought further reassurances from Jordan. Under the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a signatory, states are obliged to refrain even from complicity in torture, and thus are forbidden from deporting people to places where a real risk of torture exists. Torture is rife in Jordan and Human Rights Watch has documented allegations of severe abuse, although the prospect of torture did not stop the UK from deporting people to Libya under Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Abu Qatada was released on bail on 13 February 2012. He was prohibited from using a mobile phone, computer or the internet, and subject to an electronically monitored 22-hour curfew that only allowed him to leave home twice a day for a maximum of one hour.
On 17 April 2012, Abu Qatada was rearrested at his home in London. In a statement the same day the Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that reassurances and information received from Jordan meant that Abu Qatada could now be deported. His lawyers said they had lodged an appeal at the European Court of Human Rights, amidst confusion whether the three month deadline for reappealing following the 17 January ruling had passed or not.
On 20 April 2012, Abu Qatada requested the Home Secretary to revoke the deportation order of 18 February 2009. On 18 May 2012, the Home Secretary notified Abu Qatada of her refusal to revoke the order. The European Court of Human Rights had already denied Abu Qatada leave to appeal earlier in the month without specifying a reason, normally taken to indicate that the court considers no new issues have arisen. Abu Qatada was granted leave to appeal in the UK and the case was heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). On 12 November 2012, SIAC upheld the appeal, ruling that Abu Qatada was still at risk of having evidence obtained under torture used against him and that the Home Secretary was wrong not to revoke the deportation order against him. Abu Qatada was granted bail on restrictive conditions. The Home Secretary Theresa May said the government would appeal the decision. Abu Qatada's solicitor Gareth Peirce, commenting on the ruling, said: "It is important to reaffirm this country's position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected—rejected by the courts of this country as by the European Court". Nevertheless the ruling attracted criticism that SIAC had effectively overturned the 2009 ruling of the Law Lords, the highest court of the land. The Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his frustration that Abu Qatada was still in the UK.
In March 2013, Abu Qatada was rearrested after allegedly breaching his bail conditions. On the 27th March, The Court of Appeal rejected the Home Secretary's appeal from the November 2012 SIAC ruling and, in April 2013, denied her leave to appeal, on the basis that "states cannot expel someone where there is a real risk that they will face a trial based on evidence obtained by torture".
In May 2013, Abu Qatada pledged he would leave the UK if the UK and Jordanian governments agreed and ratified a treaty clarifying that evidence gained through torture would not be used against him in his forthcoming trial. On 7 July 2013, following the ratification of such a treaty, Abu Qatada was deported from the United Kingdom on a plane bound for Jordan from RAF Northolt.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Abu Qatada.|
- Abu Qatada collected news and commentary at The Guardian
- The Savage Barbarism of Abu Qatada: a critical assessment of his writing and speeches by a Salafi Muslim scholar.
- Special Immigration Appeals Commission judgment 12 November 2012
- Profile: Abu Qatada, BBC Radio 4, 17 November 2012