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Radical cleric linked to al-Qaida set free after UK court ruling

Extremist cleric Abu Qatada was freed from jail after a UK court ruled that he couldn't be deported to Jordan, to the fury of many government ministers. ITV's Juliet Bremner reports.

A radical Islamist cleric described by prosecutors as a key al-Qaida operative in Europe was freed from prison Tuesday after a court ruled he cannot be deported from Britain to Jordan to face terrorism charges.

The preacher was seen smiling as he was driven away from Long Lartin maximum security jail in Worcestershire, central England, in a black MPV.

Britain's government has attempted since 2001 to expel Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-born Jordanian cleric convicted in Jordan over terror plots in 1999 and 2000, but has been repeatedly thwarted by European and British courts. He has been in and out of British jails for years without charge since his arrest in 2002.

Abu Qatada won bail at a hearing Monday, when the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, which handles major terrorism and deportation cases, upheld his challenge to the decision to send him to Jordan.

Britain says will deport radical cleric Abu Qatada

Judge John Mitting said he was not convinced the cleric would receive a fair trial, despite the government's insistence that it has won assurances from Jordan over how Abu Qatada's case would be handled — including from Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Mitting said there remained a real risk that evidence obtained through torture would be used against Abu Qatada, which would be a breach of his human rights.

Under the terms of his bail, Mitting said, the cleric must observe a 16-hour curfew, wear an electronic anklet, cannot use the Internet and is barred from contacting certain people.

‘He does not belong here’
Britain's government has said it will appeal against Mitting's ruling, arguing that he applied the wrong criteria in making his decision.

"We are going to challenge it, we are going to take it to appeal. We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan. He does not belong here," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told ITV television Tuesday.

Andy Rain / EPA

Radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada arrives at his home in London after being freed by a British court. The judge ruled on Monday that he might not get a fair trial if deported to Jordan as the government plans.

Jordan’s acting information minister Nayef al-Fayez told the BBC that his government shares the disappointment at the ruling, but it respects the decision of the court.

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

Abu Qatada has previously been described in courts in Britain and Spain as a senior al-Qaida figure in Europe who had close ties to the late Osama bin Laden.

He is accused by Britain of links with Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person charged in the United States over the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and with shoe bomber Richard Reid. Audio recordings of some of the cleric's sermons were found in an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, used by some of the Sept. 11 hijackers.

Human rights lawyer Julian Knowles told the BBC that the case could drag on for years to come.

Britain's failure to deport Abu Qatada contrasts with its success last month in extraditing to the U.S. another radical cleric, Abu Hamza, who fought deportation for eight years.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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