After a decade-long legal battle which has embarrassed successive British governments and frustrated the British public, Bethlehem-born hate-preacher Abu Qatada was deported from London on Saturday night, bound for Jordan.
Qatada has been in and out of British jails since 2001, and was jailed again in March after breaching his bail conditions.
Once described by a Spanish judge as “Osama bin Laden’s deputy in Europe,” tapes of his sermons on Islam were found in the home of Mohammed Atta, the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks in America.
Qatada faces trial in Jordan for conspiracy to carry out terrorist attacks, including an attack on the American School in Amman. He was convicted in absentia and sentenced to a life term in prison with hard labor, but will get a retrial now that he is in Jordan.
He was born in Bethlehem in 1960, when it was under Jordanian rule, and so holds Jordanian citizenship. He fled to Britain in the 1990s, claiming asylum based on allegations that he had been tortured in Jordan.
His claims of torture were what made it difficult for successive British governments to deport him. British and European courts repeatedly blocked his expulsion from the country due to concerns that he could be convicted based on evidence obtained by torture. The legal battle to deport him has reportedly cost the UK more than £1.7m ($2.5m).
The lengthy and expensive legal struggle has proved particularly embarrassing to the current Conservative-led government, which is trying to reassert its credentials as being tough on immigration and terrorism, as well as battling against Eurosceptics from its own party and others to the right who claim that party leader and Prime Minister, David Cameron, is a "soft touch" on Europe.
Qatada's deportation was made possible following an agreement between Britain and Jordan that includes a Jordanian promise not to use evidence obtained through torture in cases like Qatada’s, following which he instructed his lawyers to discontinue their appeal against deportation.
British Home Secretary Theresa May expressed satisfaction at the long-awaited deportation. “This dangerous man has now been removed from our shores to face the courts in his own country,” she said in a press statement.
Qatada’s wife and five children are expected to remain in Britain.