Abu Qatada Deportation Sparks Fears of New Crisis in Jordan

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After decades of asylum in the UK, the al-Qaeda leader has been deported to his native Jordan, which some fear will lead to a new crisis between the Jordanian authorities and the country’s Islamists.

On July 8, Britain handed over cleric Omar Mahmoud Othman, a Jordanian national also known as Abu Qatada, to the Jordanian government. Jordan will hold him at the Muwaqqar prison in southeastern Amman until he is brought to court on terrorism charges. This ends the judicial battle over his deportation in Britain, which lasted nearly eight years and cost more than £1.7 million ($2.5 million).

The arrival of Abu Qatada in Jordan seemed to be the opening scene of a new internal crisis between the Jordanian authorities and the Salafist-jihadist group, to which 5,000 fighting members are loyal. Months ago, the government arrested dozens of the group’s members and detained them in prison on charges of plotting to blow up foreign embassies and commercial centers in Amman.

According to a senior Jordanian official, Jordan “did not want [Britain] to hand over the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada,” who was convicted to prison sentences in two cases by the Jordanian State Security Court in 1997 and 2000. Yet, London exerted pressure on Amman to receive him.

High-level official Jordanian sources told Al-Hayat that the British authorities proceeded with Abu Qatada’s deportation yesterday [July 7]. This came following years of judicial battles, in which he fought to oppose Amman’s attempts to repatriate him, arguing that he might be arrested and tortured. The sources added that the British authorities would "work on transferring Abu Qatada from Belmarsh prison in London to a military airbase on Saturday or Sunday night, paving the way for his departure this on July 7 to Jordan, where a plane will land at Jordan's Marka military airport in eastern Amman amid tight security measures.”

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The sources noted that the Jordanian government “decided to hold Abu Qatada in Muwaqqar prison, in which hundreds of jihadist prisoners loyal to al-Qaeda are incarcerated. The latter regard Abu Qatada as their spiritual guide." The sources noted that subsequent procedures are being taken “to retry him before a military judge at a special court for counter-terrorism and extremism.”  

Abu Qatada, 52, who was once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden's right hand man in Europe,” arrived in Britain and requested political asylum in 1993. He had been in prison several times since he was first arrested in 2001. He was detained at Belmarsh prison in March 2013, by virtue of a British court ruling, after he was arrested for breaching bail conditions.

A joint agreement between London and Amman paved the way for Britain to deport Abu Qatada, after it was passed by parliaments in both countries. This agreement prohibits the use of evidence extracted under torture in court, and ensures that human rights are protected.

Last month, Abu Qatada offered to willingly leave Britain for Jordan — where he was convicted in absentia for conspiring to carry out attacks against Western and Israeli targets — provided that the two countries ratify an agreement on extraditing wanted persons, guaranteeing his right to a fair trial. His wife and five children are expected to remain in Britain.

In London, Prime Minister David Cameron said he would be “one of the happiest people in Britain” when Abu Qatada left. British officials refused to confirm any details about the deportation, although they noted that they were prepared for any last-minute attempt to keep him on British soil. A spokesman for the UK Interior Ministry said, “Our focus is on seeing Abu Qatada on a plane to Jordan at the earliest opportunity.” The Telegraph, a UK daily paper, wrote that observers from a Jordanian human rights organization would accompany Abu Qatada on his journey.

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Found in: al-qaeda, omar mahmoud othman, omar, jordan
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