The UK is moving swiftly to implement its pledged expulsion of “preachers of hate,” launching early-morning raids Aug. 11 to round up 10 Muslim militants. The 10 face deportation to their countries of origin under new anti-terrorism measures outlined by Prime Minister Tony Blair last week. Among those detained is Abu Qatada, a cleric often described as al-Qaeda’s “spiritual ambassador” in Europe. Britain seeks to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan, where he has been tried in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment in connection with various alleged terrorist plots. Britain assures that it has secured an agreement from Jordan’s government guaranteeing that deportees will not be tortured or executed. Blair said his government is seeking similar agreements with other Middle East nations.
“In accordance with my powers to deport individuals whose presence in the U.K. is not conducive to the public good for reasons of national security, the immigration service has today detained 10 foreign nationals who I believe pose a threat to national security,” Home Secretary Charles Clarke said in a statement.
Abu Qatada, also known as Sheik Omar Abu Omar, was held in London’s Belmarsh prison without charge for over two years. He was released in March, when the Law Lords, the UK’s highest court, ruled such detentions illegal. Several of the other detainees also are former Belmarsh inmates released at this time. After their release, most were subject to “control orders” that limiting their movements.
Human rights activists are highly critical of the deportation plan. Amnesty International said the agreement with Jordan was “not worth the paper it is written on.”
Lawyers for Abu Qatada are expected to challenge his deportation in the courts, despite Blair’s assertion last week that “the rules of the game have changed.”
Abu Qatada, 44, arrived in the UK in 1993 and was granted asylum as a victim of religious persecution in Jordan. Videos of his sermons were allegedly found in the Hamburg apartment of purported 9-11 ringleader Mohamed Atta. Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called “20th hijacker,” and Richard Reid, the would-be shoe-bomber, also reportedly attended his prayer services.
After 9-11, Abu Qatada went into hiding for some 10 months. When police found him, he was detained at Belmarsh under new anti-terrorism laws.
Sheik Omar Bakri Muhammad, another radical London cleric, was arrested Aug. 11 by Lebanese authorities in Beirut. No charges were brought, and authorities indicated he could be held up to 72 hours for questioning.
Bakri left London for Lebanon the day after Blair announced his crackdown on “preachers of hate.” However, he said that he was only visiting his ailing mother and intended to return to England. British authorities say they may bar his return.
Bakri, who has lived in Britain for nearly 20 years, is the spiritual leader of the now-disbanded Al-Muhajiroun group, which authorities say may have been responsible for recruitment of two Britons for a 2003 suicide attack in Tel Aviv. Bakri has praised the 9-11 hijackers as “the magnificent 19” and the London bombers as “the fantastic four.”
With the arrests of Abu Qatada and Bakri, three of Britain’s most notorious Muslim clerics are now behind bars. Abu Hamza al-Masri, an Egyptian preacher who radicalized the Finsbury Park mosque in North London, has been in custody about a year, and may face extradition to the US. (Chicago Tribune, Aug. 12)
US authorities have charged al-Masri with involvement in plans for a terrorist training camp in Oregon and eventual attacks in Seattle.
Gareth Pierce, a lawyer representing several of the detained, accused the Home Office of deliberately putting the men “out of reach of lawyers who represent them.” He said the men had been split up to make them more inaccessible to legal cousel. “We have a strong suspicion that they are deliberately being separated in a number of directions now so as to make access even more problematic,” she said.
Pierce also dismissed assurances that the men would not face torture after deportation. “If the Home Office claims that it can now rely upon diplomatic assurances from appalling regimes whom it knows on strong evidence make use of torture, then it does so in the face of universal international rejection of such ‘assurances’,”
The government is being tight-lipped about where other than Jordan the men are to be deported to, but press accounts have mentioned Algeria. Pierce warned that the British government “cannot suggest that either of the countries concerned, Algeria or Jordan, has undergone overnight any internal revolution that does away with torture.” She added that Britain is now about to join the US in “the appalling practice of ‘rendition’.” She noted: “We ourselves believe that even now planes depart on behalf of the USA carrying suspects to detention centres in Jordan that use torture.” (IRNA, Aug. 12)
See our last post on the London bombings.