Abu Qatada Settles In to New Home

Radical cleric enjoys first taste of freedom

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It was reported today that the house in Acton now occupied by Abu Qatada is clearly identifiable due to numbers of journalists camped outside and a 'welcome home' garland draped over the front door.

Journalists descended on the residential street and many were disturbed by news-hungry hacks. However, all was quiet and one commentator had to film his report from outside Morrisons.

The fanatical preacher's wife and children were apparently delighted to see him after his release from prison, although the welcome from his new neighbours was far less warm.

Yesterday, the radical cleric, who is considered to be one of the world’s most dangerous terror suspects, was clearly seen by those camping outside his semi-detached house when he appeared at a window using a telephone. Presumably it wasn't a mobile since these are forbidden under the terms of his bail. Although under house arrest, Qatada seemed to be enjoying his first day of freedom and could be seen laughing.

Qatada was once described by a Spanish judge as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe.

About a month ago the Jordanian’s family moved into the four-bedroom Acton house, worth £800,000, Residents thought little of the arrival of the Muslim family in an area that celebrates its ethnic diversity. But yesterday there were expressions of amazement that the preacher had moved into the midst of their community.

Journalists have been badgering residents, most of whom did not even know the identity of their new neighbour.

“The fact that he is in my country, let alone around my neighbourhood makes me mad,” said Michael Lamb, 34, who lives nearby. Mr Lamb served in the Royal Navy in the Gulf War and works in public relations. “The timing is incredibly bad. We are losing men in Afghanistan and now this man is allowed to live here,” he said.

One neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: “I heard it was the Islamic extremist earlier on today. That does worry me. I remember the family moving in and the woman was dressed in traditional Muslim dress. There was a flurry of activity there last night, I guess it was when he returned.”

Another neighbour said: "I thought someone famous had moved in because of all the photographers. Little did I know that this is not some glamorous celebrity, but a radical Muslim preacher."

Despite much activity outside the house yesterday and today with journalists, (one resident reported seeing Jeremy Vine in the vicinity) photographers, and presumably quite a few policemen, the curtains remained resolutely closed as far as we could tell. According to reports he definitely did not leave the house on Wednesday.

As part of the strict bail conditions, Abu Qatada will be required to stay at the two-storey rented house for 22 hours a day. The terror suspect, wanted in Jordan on charges connected with al-Qaeda, will also be required to wear an electronic tag. He is apparently allowed to leave the property for an hour from 10am and another hour from 2pm.

A friend of Abu Qatada told The Times newspaper: “No matter how strict the conditions it is better for him than being in prison. Having to stay indoors will not be too much of a hardship. In the past he used to stay inside all the time, sitting in his study reading books. He got quite obese at one stage but in prison he has lost weight and got fit and is in much better shape.

“The worst thing for him is that he is not allowed to attend the mosque. That seems very unfair and I imagine that he will seek to challenge that later as a restriction on his religious freedom.”

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, yesterday pledged to appeal against a court ruling preventing his deportation to Jordan.

Abu Qatada was released after he won his fight against deportation. He has been convicted in the Middle East in his absence of involvement with terror attacks in 1998 and 2000. Abu Qatada came to Britain as an asylum-seeker in September 1993 on a forged United Arab Emirates passport.

Ms Smith said: “I am extremely disappointed that the courts have granted Abu Qatada bail, albeit with very strict conditions. I am appealing to the House of Lords to reverse the decision that it is not safe to deport Qatada and the other Jordanian cases. The Government’s priority is to protect public safety and national security and we will take all steps necessary to do so.”

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Home Secretary, said: “This man should be deported if possible. His presence is offensive. Failing deportation, he should be prosecuted.

“This is why, for example, we have called on the Government to allow the use of intercept evidence, so they have every weapon possible to prosecute these individuals.”

The cleric’s bail conditions include a ban on attending “any mosque” or leading prayers, giving lectures or providing religious instruction to anyone except his wife and children.

The preacher left Long Lartin prison in Worcestershire at around 2020 BST on Tuesday night.

He was driven out of the prison at speed in a silver Peugeot people-carrier, hidden from view under a blanket on the back seat.

Abu Qatada was once described by a judge as a "truly dangerous individual at the centre of al-Qaeda's activities in the UK".

He is widely assumed to have had a huge radicalising influence on men who went on to commit acts of violence such as Richard Reid, the convicted shoe bomber, Mohammed Atta, the 9/11 ringleader and Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, the former al-Qaeda leader in Iraq.

Mr Justice Mitting of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) granted Abu Qatada bail on Tuesday.

As well as the other bail conditions, Police have special permission to enter and search Qatada's home, while he is banned from having guests other than family and solicitors without the home secretary's permission.

Among the people he is banned from meeting in London is al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

Others include bin Laden's deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and Rachid Ramda, who has been convicted in France of masterminding a series of bombings in 1995.

Also named is hate preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, also a some-time Acton resident.

Abu Qatada became one of the UK's most wanted men in December 2001 when he went on the run, on the eve of government moves to introduce anti-terror laws allowing suspects to be detained without charge or trial.

In October 2002 the authorities tracked him down to a council house in south London and took him to Belmarsh Prison.

He was eventually freed on bail in March 2005, but was made the subject of a control order to limit his movements.

In August that year he was taken back into custody pending the extradition to Jordan.


June 19, 2008