A radical Muslim preacher once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's ambassador in Europe was ordered released on bail by a British court Thursday.
Abu Qatada has been jailed in Britain since 2002 for allegedly playing a key role in raising funds for extremist groups and providing spiritual advice to militants
planning terror attacks.
British government officials claim Qatada had links to shoe bomber Richard Reid and to Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged and convicted in the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The government is attempting to deport Qatada to his native Jordan, where he has been convicted in connection with two 1998 bombings.
In April, Qatada won a significant court victory against the British government, when the Court of Appeal ordered that extradition proceedings against him must be halted, saying he faced the threat of torture if returned to Jordan.
On Thursday, Britain's Special Immigration Appeals Commission ruled that Qatada should be released on bail, while the government seeks to overturn the Court of Appeal decision.
That ruling dealt a major blow to government plans to send scores of foreign-born terrorist suspects back to their homelands.
Qatada, who British authorities claim has «long-established connections» with al-Qaida, Egypt's Islamic Jihad and other terror groups, had been due to remain in custody while the government files an appeal.
The special appeals commission did not specify exactly when Qatada will be released on bail, but it ordered that he should observe a 22-hour curfew, meaning he must remain inside his home for all but two hours each day.
Lawyers for Qatada said that details of his release on bail had not yet been finalized.
The commission was specifically created to review orders to deport suspects on national security grounds and to hear appeals of such decisions.
«Public safety is our main priority, and we will take all steps necessary to protect the public,» Britain's Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said following the ruling.
Qatada has denied supporting terrorism, and claims he would not receive a fair trial if deported to Jordan.
The cleric was described in a Spanish indictment in 2002 as «the supreme leader at the European level of the mujahedeen,» or Islamic fighters. Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon, who has prosecuted a number of terrorist cases, called Qatada «bin Laden's ambassador in Europe.
Qatada was jailed in Britain under anti-terrorism laws between 2002 and early 2005, then released and re-arrested in August 2005 to be held pending deportation to Jordan.
Smith said Thursday that the Home Office will continue its effort to try to force Qatada back to Jordan. She is likely to take the case to law lords at the House of Lords, Britain's highest appeals court.
David Davis, the opposition Conservative party spokesman on home affairs, said the case seriously undermines Britain's program to deport terror suspects.
Britain has agreed a number of «no torture» deals with governments in several countries, including Jordan and Libya. But opponents claim the agreements are not legally binding under international law and offer no protection to suspects.
Source: PR-Inside (English)
See also: UK: 'This is not England. It is Saudi Arabia'