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Al-Qaida's top man in Europe freed from British jail

Abu Qatada, a radical cleric who was once described as "Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe," has been freed from an English prison after six years.

After six years behind bars, Abu Qatada, al-Qaida’s most senior man in Europe, was released on bail from a high security English prison on Monday, triggering uproar among British officials who say he should stay imprisoned.

The European Court of Human Rights told Britain to release Qatada because he had not been charged. The court said his detention was unlawful.

The 51-year-old extremist preacher is believed to have inspired several al-Qaida attacks, including those on the World Trade Center towers on 9/11. Videos of his lectures were found in the hijackers’ apartments.

British Prime Minister David Cameron passionately decried the ruling, saying, “We are doing everything we can do to get this man out of the country.”

The human rights court will not allow Britain to extradite Qatada to Jordan, where he is wanted on terrorism charges, because the court believes the Jordanians would torture him for information.

“This has put the British government in a very tough position,” said Michael Leiter, NBC News’ counter-terrorism analyst. “It has highlighted the inherent tension of the European Court of Human Rights making a decision that is contrary to the professional views of the British security services.”

Six other men connected with al-Qaida may be freed from British prisons because of the court ruling. Among them, Abu Hamza, a radical Muslim cleric, is currently fighting extradition to the U.S.  

The debate over whether the men should be freed comes just in time  for the UK’s biggest security challenge ever: the Olympics.

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