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Britain resumes bid to deport Bethlehem-born cleric

April 17, 2012 8:10 P.M. (Updated: April 18, 2012 6:04 P.M.)
LONDON (Reuters) -- Britain said on Tuesday it had re-arrested a Bethlehem-born cleric once described as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe" and would resume plans to deport him to Jordan, where he has been convicted in his absence of involvement in terrorist plots.

Preacher Abu Qatada, who holds Jordanian nationality, has been under virtual house arrest at his family home in London since February, when he was freed from a British prison after a court said his detention without trial was unlawful.

The court's decision followed a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights in January that Qatada would not receive a fair trial in Jordan because evidence against him may have been obtained using torture.

The findings have embarrassed the British government, which maintains that Qatada is a national security risk, and prompted calls from politicians to defy the European court and deport the cleric before London hosts the Olympic Games in July and August.

Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been fighting attempts to deport him for six years and his case has become an important test of how Britain treats foreign suspects accused of having links with groups such as al-Qaida.

Britain says videotapes of his sermons were found in a German apartment used by three of the people who carried out al-Qaida's September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

A court in Jordan has found Qatada guilty in absentia of involvement in two bomb plots and a senior British judge has described him as a "truly dangerous" supporter of radical Islamist groups.

Qatada, a father of five, denies belonging to al-Qaida.

He was described as bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe" by Spanish high court judge and human rights investigator Baltasar Garzon in 2004 after 191 people were killed by bombs put on board commuter trains in Madrid by Islamist militants.

British Home Secretary Theresa May, responsible for domestic security, traveled to Jordan in March to seek a deal that would allow the deportation to proceed by gaining assurances that torture evidence would not be used against Qatada.

She was due to update parliament later on the progress of negotiations with Jordan.

Qatada was expected to appear in a specialist court where the government would seek to overturn his bail and return him to prison.

"UK Border Agency officers have today arrested Abu Qatada and told him that we intend to resume deportation proceedings against him," the Home Office said in a statement.

Al-Qaida last week warned Britain against sending Qatada to Jordan, saying in a statement on an Islamist website that such a move would open the "door of evil" for the British government and its people.

Qatada was born in 1960 near Bethlehem, then controlled by Jordan and now part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Never formally charged with an offense, he has been in and out of custody since he was first detained under anti-terrorism laws in 2002.

Since his release Qatada has had to wear an electronic tag to allow the police to keep track of him and spend 22 hours a day at his family home. He was also banned from using the Internet and mobile phones.
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