Abu Qatada, the radical Islamic cleric described as Osama bin Laden’s “right-hand man in Europe”, has been released from jail after a judge ruled that there were no grounds to keep him in prison.
The decision to allow him to return to his home in London – where he will receive around £1,000 per month in state benefits – made a mockery of the government’s promise to crack down on terror suspects, and embarrassed the Home Office, which had pledged to deport Qatada to Jordan to face terror charges.
The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, said she was “extremely disappointed” at the court’s decision to bail Qatada, while the Conservatives branded the decision “offensive”.
Mr Justice Mitting signed an order to release Qatada on bail, with strict conditions, following an earlier Court of Appeal decision to refuse his deportation on the grounds that it would breach human rights law.
The judge was sitting at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) in London, the same court which had previously described Qatada as “a truly dangerous individual” who was “heavily involved, indeed at the centre of terrorist activities associated with al-Qa’eda”.
But because Qatada has never been convicted of a criminal offence in the UK, and because he cannot be deported, the judge ruled that he had to be freed pending a last-ditch attempt by the Home Office to have the deportation ruling overturned in the House of Lords.
After being freed from HMP Long Lartin in Worcestershire he is scheduled to be driven to Acton in West London where he must spend at least 22 hours a day at home, wearing an electronic tag.
Police are expected to maintain a constant presence outside Qatada’s home to protect him from vigilante attacks, at an annual cost of tens of thousands of pounds.