Abu Qatada ‘Ready To Leave Britain’

Abu Qatada 'ready to leave Britain'

Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim cleric, is ready to give up his fight to stay in Britain to move to Palestine, a court heard.

By Duncan Gardham, Security Correspondent
Last Updated: 10:20PM GMT 12 Nov 2008

Qatada, once described as “Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe,” is in discussions to return Palestine, where he was born, instead of battling to avoid deportation.

The British Government had previously said it would permit the 47-year-old to leave if he could find a country willing to take him, a hearing of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission was told.

The preacher was released from jail in June after the Government failed to have him deported to Jordan over fears he would not get a fair trial on terrorism charges.

He was arrested on Saturday morning at his council home in West London after allegedly breaching his strict bail conditions.

His lawyer Edward Fitzgerald QC, said that officials may have thought he plotting to flee Britain but added: “There have been quite above board discussions as to the possibility of him going to a third party country where there would be no risk of torture.

“There is no reason that would be done without the full approval of the Home Office.

“He has taken legal advice on renouncing Jordanian nationality and there have been discussions about the possibility of returning to Palestine, the place of his birth. He was born in Bethlehem.

“There was a stage when the Government position was 'you can go wherever as long as you could be accepted there'.”

Mr Justice Mitting confirmed Qatada would be allowed to go, adding: “These are deportation proceedings. There would not appear to be any reason in principle he should not leave to another country that would accept him.”

Mr Fitzgerald said allegations that Qatada was plotting to flee the country unlawfully, which may have been made in one of two closed sessions at the hearing, were “ridiculous” and could have been down to “Chinese whispers” about his negotiations with Palestine.

However he admitted: “I am playing a game of blind man's buff,” because many allegations against the hate preacher were made in secret, without Qatada or his legal team present, and said he only knew about the fleeing allegation because of newspaper reports.

Mr Justice Mitting admitted that the only allegation serious enough to keep Qatada in prison was secret, and indicated he may order it to be disclosed.

The hearing the other evidence includes a video tape allegedly showing him preaching in breach of bail and other material on video tapes, memory cards, computer discs, Sim cards and an mp3 player.

He was also allegedly encouraged to join the “mujahideen on the battlefield,” on a website posting.

Describing the public evidence as an “assault of cynical and tenuous suggestion,” Mr Fitzgerald said the 'preaching' video was actually him talking to his children about the importance of Eid and the mp3 player was his son's ipod.

Qatada – real name Omar Mohammed Othman – arrived in Britain from Jordan in September 1993 using a forged passport and claimed asylum for himself, his wife and children.

The Special Immigration Appeals Commission has previously described him as a “truly dangerous individual” who was “heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda.”

They said he had given religious authority to numerous high profile terrorists across the world, including those behind September 11 attacks.

The hearing continues.