Many Americans will not recognize the name Abu Qatada. Qatada is a radical Muslim cleric currently behind bars in the United Kingdom waiting deportation to Jordan for terrorism-related charges. It has been widely reported that he is also wanted by authorities in Belgium, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, and Algeria and has been once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe.” The British government claims that Qatada provided religious and spiritual advice to extremist groups almost immediately after arriving in Britain in the mid-1990s.
Qatada is also a threat to the United States. A number of Qatada videos were found in the Hamburg apartment of Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the September 11 attacks. He is also alleged to have links to Abu Doha, an Algerian national who was instrumental in planning an aborted plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations in December 1999.
In 2000, Qatada was convicted in absentia in Jordan for his role in plotting terrorist attacks at high-profile tourist sites. Viewed as a threat to British security, he was locked up while waiting deportation to Jordan. After he appealed his deportation in 2009, the highest appeals court in the U.K. ruled against Qatada, saying that he could be deported to Jordan because the U.K. received adequate assurances from the Jordanians that he would not be tortured.
While waiting to be deported to Jordan, Qatada took the U.K. government to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to appeal the decision by the U.K. appeals court. Last month the ECHR overruled the British courts, ruling that deporting Qatada to Jordan would be a violation of his human rights. A U.K. court ruled yesterday that Qatada can longer be held behind bars and must be released on bail. It is expected that he will be back on the streets of London in the next few days.
The release, even on the terms of bail, of someone as dangerous as Qatada is unacceptable. Prime Minister David Cameron has been very critical of the ECHR and has led the calls in Europe for the court to be reformed. If supranational judges in Strasbourg continue to overrule decisions taken by national courts, London will soon have to choose between membership in the ECHR and its ability to deport terrorist suspects. The Prime Minister, Home Secretary, and Attorney General in the U.K. should do all they can to prevent Qatada from being released.