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London court denies bail for Muslim cleric held since 2002

The UK High Court [official website] in London on Monday denied an application for bail [judgment, PDF] by Muslim cleric Abu Qatada [BBC profile; JURIST news archive]. Qatada had challenged a previous ruling that had denied him bail on grounds that the government's risk of losing Qatada was too great to allow his release, especially given his likely pending deportation [JURIST reports]. Qatada has been described as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe" [Reuters report] and UK officials believe he should be kept in prison for national security reasons. Qatada has never formally been charged with an offense, and has been in and out of custody either in prison or some form of house arrest since first detained under British anti-terrorism laws in 2002. In early February he was released on bail [JURIST report] for a short time but was arrested again in April to begin deportation proceedings. Qatada had been convicted in absentia in Jordan for sending encouraging messages to Jordanian militants who were planning two bomb attacks in 1999 and 2000.

Qatada was granted political asylum by the UK in 1994. When later he was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act police seized a sizable sum of money in various currencies, for which no explanation was given. In 2001 he went into hiding to avoid being arrested and detained under the then-proposed Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. He was arrested again in 2002 and held until March 2005 when he was released pursuant to a House of Lords judgment declaring his detention without trial to be unlawful. In February 2009 the ECHR ordered the UK to pay £2,500 in damages [JURIST report] to Qatada after determining that his imprisonment violated the European Convention on Human Rights [materials]. Despite his previous grant of asylum and fears of torture and persecution, UK Law Lords in February 2009 ruled that Qatada could be returned [JURIST report] to Jordan to face terrorism charges. The February decision overruled an April 2008 Court of Appeal decision blocking his deportation [JURIST report].

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