By Sara Elizabeth Williams and Richard Ford
Abu Qatada will be blocked from returning to the UK despite being acquitted in a Jordan court of terror charges, Downing Street said yesterday.
The radical preacher will be refused entry if he tries to return, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.
Speaking after the acquittal, the spokesman said: “He can’t come back and he won’t come back.
“He’s a Jordanian, he does not have a UK passport, he was deported on an indefinite deportation order, he would not be granted permission to enter the UK. End of story.”
Abu Qatada’s acquittal on terrorism offences relating to an alleged bombing plot in 1998 came after a decade-long legal battle with the British government as the cleric tried to stay in the UK. He remains in custody until the verdict on a second terrorism charge is given on September 7 and will be freed if he is cleared.
Abu Qatada, 54, was finally deported last year after Theresa May secured a treaty with Jordan that guaranteed he would not face a trial that involved the use of evidence obtained by torture. After his departure, his wife and five children dropped an application for leave to remain in the UK and followed him to Jordan.
Jordan hopes that he will campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), the Islamist extremist movement that is overrunning Iraq and Syria, once he is freed from prison and that he will not endanger the country’s national security, it emerged last night.
A source who regularly attended Abu Qatada’s trial told The Times that the cleric had made clear in informal comments to journalists that he loathed Isis, which is massing on the Jordanian-Iraqi border, and supported Jabhat al-Nusra, its rival, in Syria.
“With this regional context, it makes sense that Abu Qatada, the Salafi leader in Jordan, is being acquitted in order to play a positive role in steering the youth of Jordan away from Isis,” said the courtroom source.
Ayman Khalil, Director of the Arab Institute for Security Studies in Amman, said he did not believe Abu Qatada’s acquittal had come about because of threats from radical Islamists against the judicial system, saying it was “logical and neutral”. However, he agreed that some sort of regional realpolitik may be at play.
“The Jordanian sentence may bring about ingredients of a truce with radical Islamic elements — and possibly an avenue for dialogue,” he said.
“The long-term treatment for radicalism in the region should rely on sponsoring dialogue and improving confidence.”
Some experts think that Abu Qatada may wish to return to Britain, with the cleric reported to feel a strong connection to the country. “Abu Qatada’s most active era was during his presence in the UK. He would have a little role to play if he is kept on Jordanian soil,” said Mr Khalil.
Abu Qatada’s lawyer, Ghazi al-Thneibet, refused to discuss where his client might go after the trial, saying only that the cleric was “very happy” about yesterday’s decision: “He told me, ‘This is the first step. I am looking forward to the final decision’.”
Isis has unleashed a wildfire assault on Iraq, damaging the country’s security forces, pillaging US-supplied weapons, killing scores of civilians and bringing chaos almost to Jordan’s door.