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Radical Jordanian cleric fights UK deportation bid

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, May 9 (Reuters) A hardline Islamic cleric believed to have close links with al Qaeda in Britain launched a legal challenge today against efforts to deport him to Jordan.

The case of Abu Qatada, a Jordanian national who came to Britain in 1993, is a key test of British efforts to allow deportations to countries accused of torture by securing special agreements that deportees will not be ill treated.

The memoranda of understanding are meant to circumvent European human rights legislation which forbids member states from deporting people to countries where they could be tortured.

Abu Qatada's lawyer argued on Tuesday that evidence against him may have been obtained abroad through torture. But the British government said he was undoubtedly dangerous.

''The evidence clearly shows the risk posed by him to the United Kingdom's national security,'' the government's lawyer Ian Burnett told a special tribunal hearing the case.

Abu Qatada has twice been convicted by Jordan in absentia on charges of involvement in terrorist plots and argues he would be ill treated by authorities if he is sent back to his homeland.

Burnett said the memorandum signed with Jordan would ensure Abu Qatada was not tortured, even if it was not binding under international law.

''The Jordanian government has every reason to make sure that all of the organs of the Jordanian state comply with the obligations set out in the Memorandum of Understanding,'' he told the hearing in a basement courtroom in central London.

Abu Qatada, whose given name in court papers is Omar Mohammed Othman, was not present at the hearing. He is in detention awaiting the outcome of the legal wrangling.

He has been repeatedly linked to radical Islamist groups, including Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

VIDEOTAPE LINK TO SEPT. 11 ATTACKERS Authorities say 18 videotapes of his sermons were found in an apartment in Germany used by three of the suicide hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 2001 attacks on the United States.

The tribunal hearing his appeal concluded two years ago in another case that he was ''heavily involved, indeed was at the centre in the United Kingdom of terrorist activities associated with al Qaeda'' and was ''a truly dangerous individual''.

Burnett said he had also been a spiritual leader to the al-Tawhid movement headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, now al Qaeda's chief in Iraq.

Abu Qatada's lawyer Edward Fitzgerald indicated he would focus on whether it was safe for the cleric to be deported to Jordan but also cast doubt on security arguments against him.

''The appellant strongly suspects that the national security case against him is based on material obtained as a result of torture,'' Fitzgerald told the hearing, referring to evidence obtained abroad.

Abu Qatada was detained in 2002 and held without trial by British authorities under legislation rushed through after the Sept. 11 attacks. He was released in March last year and placed under house arrest, then detained for deportation last August.

The hearing on his possible deportation is expected to last for several days at least.

REUTERS CH PC2322

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